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Better connectivity offers promise for rural Bangladesh

10 February 2010

Nafid Imran Ahmed

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From telemedicine to basic internet facility in rural areas, broadband connectivity and ICT technology have brought changes in the lives of ordinary citizens. Once obstacles to broadband adoption and fixed line infrastructure are removed, this new technology has the potential to revolutionise the daily lives.

Bangladesh: In 2008, Sirajul Islam; a sixty-year old man, who during one of his morning walks in the Gulshan area, saw an ambulance surrounded by a group of people. His curiosity took him to the spot, where he found that he could get a medical check-up at the ambulance by doctors sitting miles away.

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Image credits: SK Enamul Haque/ Migrating to 3G networks will require infrastructure

He opted for a check-up and the officials in the ambulance took his medical history and details and sent them to a medical specialist at a distant hospital. After going through the details and seeing the patient live through video conferencing, the doctor prescribed Islam as needed.

This was the story of a pilot project, ‘Alokito Bangladesh’(Enlightened Bangladesh), led by Ericsson Bangladesh Ltd. The project, which started back then on trial, used the 3G/HSPA (3rd generation/high speed packet access) technology.

This mobile broadband technology enables people to communicate with high-speed data transfers and enjoy services, like video calls, mobile TV and high-speed mobile broadband.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) gave Ericsson Bangladesh permission to deploy a demo 3G/HSPA network in Dhaka in 2008.

For the past few years, general packet radio services (GPRS) and Edge based mobile internet have revolutionised the country's internet usage. Now even in remote villages, where there is no internet connectivity but mobile networks are present, people are enjoying basic internet through their mobile phones.

Studies even reveal that many people in emerging markets experienced internet for the first time on their mobile phones.

At the recently held seminar by the GSM Association (GSMA) in Dhaka, the world industry body of the GSM (global system for mobile communications) technology elaborated how mobile broadband technology will enable the population of Bangladesh embrace the range of social and economic benefits associated with increased internet penetration.

“In order to achieve this, the Bangladesh government and regulators should consider allocating 2100 MHz spectrum immediately that is required for HSPA mobile broadband deployment,” said Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer at GSMA, in an interview on the sidelines of a seminar, 'Achieving 2021-A Digital Age for Bangladesh'.

He said Bangladesh currently faces a number of obstacles to widespread broadband adoption, including availability of fixed line infrastructure, which remains poor, particularly outside urban areas.

The GSMA official also stressed that with limited fixed line coverage unable to adequately serve the widely dispersed Bangladesh population, more focus must be given to releasing the urgently needed spectrum for Mobile Broadband deployment.

At the seminar it was mentioned that mobile broadband will become the primary internet access route in Bangladesh for users in both rural and urban areas.

Phillips said the growth of mobile telephony is commendable in the country but the growth has been hindered due to high start up cost of mobile connection which is one of the highest in the world.

Currently in Bangladesh, five mobile operators-GrameenPhone, Banglalink, AKTEL, Warid and Teletalk-use the GSM technology and only CityCell uses the CDMAOne technology.

GSM is a cellular network, which means that mobile phones connect to its network by searching for cells in the nearest surrounding area. GSM networks operate in four different frequency ranges-850/900/1800/1900 MHz. Most GSM networks operate in the 900/1800 MHz bands.

The 3G/HSPA based networks, proposed to operate in 2100 MHz, could be a new ray of light for the poor of the country, which can provide access to better healthcare, enable distance learning and government initiatives, among other things.

Broadband connectivity and ICT technology are important tools for socio-economic progress in developing countries. Rural residents can also acquire employment skills through online training over the 3G/HSPA network, explore new job opportunities, receive micro-loans and other banking services, as well as call relatives and friends overseas at low rates.

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