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‘CUSTOMERS WILL NOT CHOOSE 4G OVER BROADBAND YET’

Coming from a prominent political family, it seemed destiny for Joy to enter politics. And he did. Son of veteran politician Mohammed Nasim, who is currently the Minister for health and Family Welfare, Tanvir Shakil Joy followed on his father’s footstep and became a politician. An MP for Sirajganj 1 constituency, Joy has another passion besides politics: technology.

He had started an ISP company called ‘Global Link’, which he could not continue after getting occupied with political work. Later on he started Delta Infocom and Omega Technologies in 2011. Fintech caught up with Joy to have a conversation about his companies and Digital Bangladesh. Here’s the excerpt:

FINTECH:Tell us a little bit about your background.

Tanvir Shakil Joy : I grew up in Dhaka. I passed my SSC in 1992 from University of Laboratory School and HSC from Dhaka College. I then studied computer engineering at George Mason University in Virginia in the US. I came back to the country in 2000 and started a company Global Link. I’ve been involved in IT business since then. I started ISP service in 2001, and continued the business for five years. I had to turn my attention away from business for a while.

Then in in 2011 when the government started granting IIG license, I founded Delta Infocom. At that time, I took out the ISP license as well, because I could connect ISPs through the IIG. I also had the Global Link team this time around, because they had been with me for a long time.

FINTECH: So, how’s the ISP business going?

I would say ISP is running better than IIG. At that time about 28 IIG licenses were given out. But the IIG market is slow moving. So, for instance, from that 28 IIGs, 12 or 13 are currently operating, and the rest has closed down. My advantage in ISP is that I also have IIG, which is a big support for me. I am able to connect my customers easily. From that perspective ISP has wider scope.

I have about a thousand ISP customers, including corporate. For IIG, I have about five hundred. Some raised the issue of price in ISP, but I think our ICT Advisor SajeebWazedsaw to it that the prices are low for Internet services. Compared to 2008, it’s much different now.

If the bandwidth price reaches a level that business can’t be sustained, then it’s bad for everyone. So, I think the current price for bandwidth is completely congruent with the time. If the price is lowered than this, then it will make the market unstable and there will be unhealthy competition.

FINTECH: 4G is here now. Connection will be available at Tk700-800. How much does that impact your business?

This is a big challenge, no doubt. But the kind of speed mobile phones should get and what operators are providing, I think there is a difference there between them and us. For example, it’s been three years since 3G was launched. But how wide is the network really? Not much. So, we have 3G but it hasn’t availed quality. 4G is quite far if you look at it from that aspect. The information minister and state minister also expressed dissatisfaction at this.

Even with 3G and 4G, I’m personally using broadband. My office has cable network. People are not quite clear about 3G and 4G. So, even if there is a lower price I don’t think customers will choose that alternative. I would venture a guess that you are using broadband, and using 3G or 4G only in limited capacity when you are out of your home or office. I get that feedback from my clients. They are dependent on broadband. So, I don’t think there will be a negative impact on ISP.

FINTECH: Government declared that software or IT firms will get reduced price on bandwidth. Is that available from certain ISPs or all providers?

I think will apply to all providers. If there is a matter of discount, then that will create a monopoly in the market. That’s why I think it will be available from all providers. There might be discounts given to private universities. We provide the connection for some universities like ULAB, Daffodil and few others. They get subsidy through the University Grand Commission. So, we have to provide for a discounted rate.

But we actually don’t get the discounted amount from the government. Say if the charge was Tk3, they pay Tk2 and government pay Tk1. If the government actually paid us off the amount it subsidizes, then the ISP companies could really benefit from that and contribute more to the industry.

FINTECH: What kinds of challenges you faced in this business and still face?

If you are doing business there will be struggles. One of the area of struggle is to do with the business infrastructure. The current government has taken a lot of initiatives to remedy the problem of infrastructure. It needs to keep advancing further in its initiatives. So, for example, there is the issue of financing in the IT sector. Bank loan is a big issue. There is a project called ‘EF Fund’. This is allotted for startups. So, if someone wants to start an IT firm they will get loans from Bangladesh Bank on flexible conditions. Government has stood behind this project really firmly. I personally tried for getting this fund. But I just gave up because of bureaucracy, even though I’m a politician. I didn’t want to go forward because this was too complex. So, this is a big challenge.

And then there is infrastructure issue in providing service to home users. We have to give connection through overhead lines. Sometimes we cannot provide connection because of simply physical distance. Often you get overhead lines cut because some ministry had a problem. So, these problems are quite a big struggle for ISP companies like us. you have to bear extra cost for these things. We have gone through a lot of trial and error. But my team has made it possible to be where we are now.

FINTECH: Do you think about catering your service according to customer demographics? For example, for you thousand customers, often the bill is paid by or taken care of by the women in the house. Do you think about customized product creation for them, for example?

That’s actually a great idea. You could promote to them products or services they are interested in. We have that access. ISP companies can explore these avenues actually.

The ISP companies are already providing movie services. At least a lot of them are providing it. Clients also value this service tremendously. So, you can think about how to make this more official, because you are spending for providing that service. We are thinking about that.

FINTECH: You are involved in politics and very much aligned with Bangabandhu’spolitical ideology. Are you thinking about doing something on Bangabandhu, like making available documentaries that showBangabandhu’scontributions and all of his works?

For work like that funding is not a concern. You could do a lot of things with his speeches, history, biography and so on. We have asked for clarification for ISPs from BTRC, but they haven’t come up with a legal framework. In fact, because there is none, people are doing whatever they like.

But yes, you could always do something on his life and work. But people’s behaviours have hanged. People used to go on Internet to check emails. It’s the era of high speed bandwidth. There are two sides to this. One is entertainment and the other is gaining knowledge. You can go to different portals and learn many things. But as an ISP provider I know that my customer’s main demand is for YouTube. You have to provide buffer-less streaming for YouTube and allot extra bandwidth for this channel. Someone that has a 5mb connection, pulls 10mb just for YouTube.So, people are prioritizing entertainment. That’s why I think not much is done with Bangabandhu’s work. But that’s a great idea and thank you for that.

FINTECH: Vision 2021 is a big talking point now. What kinds of changes do you think will come through this vision?

The concept of a digital Bangladesh has actually become a reality to a large extent. When the prime minister announced the Vision 2021 there was a lot of contempt for it. A lot of people laughed at it even. People actually couldn’t truly grasp the concept of a digital Bangladesh.

The whole objective of a digital Bangladesh was to take information technology to its ultimate end. Digital Bangladesh doesn’t mean that everyone will have a laptop and a smartphone. A lot has changed gradually. Today, you don’t have to line up to know the result of your exam. You can get it through SMS, or through the Internet. The same is true for payment of most utility bills.

That’s one area. Let’s look at agriculture. A sugarcane farmer now can calculate how much he will make from his production through his mobile phone. Before they would be stuck in bureaucratic process at the Krishi Office. This change has happened everywhere, in the health sector, education sector, banking sector and so on. I think that is really something praiseworthy.

Now 4G has been rolled out. People now have more demands. People are complaining about not getting full 4G connection. So, there is demand and it was created because of government’s initiatives.People’s expectations are different nowand they are aligned to the Digital Bangladesh vision. That’s why we are now the citizens of Digital Bangladesh. By 2021 we will see a new Bangladesh.

FINTECH: You have been in the IT business for a long time. Why aren’t you venturing into software or the solution market? Is there a specific reason?

To be honest this is my shortcoming really. You know I’m involved in politics. The amount of time I would need to spend for running a software or solution business is simply not available to me. I can’t even spend that time for the company I currently run. But I actually do have that plan at the back of my mind. I have an excellent team, excellent human resources. So, why not go that route? I do want to work in network solution and software.

FINTECH: Where do you want to see yourself in 10 years? Do you look at a 10-year older politician or a businessman?

Actually I want to see both of that becoming part of my reality. I want to be a successful politician because my family is involved in politics and we are a freedom fighter family. I have to be a successful politician, from my perspective. But at the same time I am very much an IT person and IT professional. I want to see my company reach higher successes. That is my professional vision. IT is my passion and politics is in my spirit.

FINTECH: Thanks very much for speaking to us.

Thank you as well. ■

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