Axiata’s Bangladeshi unit Robi has agreed to a site sharing deal with state-owned Teletalk, one of the country’s smaller operators.
The deal will allow both operators to increase 3G coverage rapidly in preparation for launching 4G. Having been initially delayed to December 2017, Bangladesh’s 4G auctions are now lined up for February, with spectrum in the 900MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.1GHz bands available for bidders.
Following the auctions, Robi and Teletalk are hoping that their site sharing agreement will allow them to deploy 4G services rapidly. Robi is expected to be joined in the bidding by market leader Grameenphone and third placed Banglalink, but currently Teletalk is not eligible to bid as it owes the government BDT20 billion ($240 million).
Theoretically, Teletalk needs to clear this debt – which it accrued by failing to pay a revenue-sharing fee for its 3G services to the country’s regulator - in order to participate in the auction. However, since the government is keen for four bidders in order to increase the potential revenue from the auction, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission may well give Teletalk the all-clear.
The BTRC said in a statement that it considered the repayment of Teletalk’s debt as “nothing but a formality. If the government gives Teletalk the money, Teletalk will forward it to BTRC, who, in turn, will give it back to the government.”
Teletalk’s MD Kazi Md Golam Quddus noted that “as a state-owned company, the government will provide BTRC the guarantee that it needs”. The operator has 4 million connections for a 3% market share, compared to Robi’s 28% share which places it second in the market.