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USHERING IN THE ERA 4G

Call it 4G insanity.

It’s the ceaseless stream of news and updates that you find in newspapers, online media and TV. Those somehow tout the magical properties of this newest wireless network, one that promises to do everything but sweep your floors and cook dinner.

They say – these service providers and carriers – that 4G is about to change your life.A lot of the hype is media and marketing nonsense, of course, but once you investigate beyond the news, you’ll see that 4G really does have the power to alter aspects of your life.

What is 4G, exactly? Well, to understand it, you have to understand ‘G’ first—which is short of the word generation. Every decade or so brings a new generation of mobile phone technology: 1G brought us the brick-like analogue phones in the 1980s; 2G saw digital phones shrink almost to the size of business cards; 3G made phones “smart” and able to use data.

So what is the “fourth generation” technology? In essence, 4G is a way of squeezing larger amounts of data over radio waves. Essentially it turns our phones into a device with links to the Internet, in theory making watching live TV, video calling or multi-player gaming just as seamless on the move as it is at home.

4G networks offer faster service and can provide smartphone-sizzling speeds to many users at the same time. Those capabilities open up a new horizon of opportunities for all sorts of novel wireless applications that might simplify our lives, keep us better connected and yes, perhaps even change the way we work and play. And this massive evolutionary leap into 4G is just now getting underway.

However, there’s no agreed upon standard for 4G, and wireless companies stretch the term for all its worth. But in short, any network that’s substantially faster than 3G is fair game for the 4G label. That includes upgraded 3G networks as well as fresh networks, like 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution), built for zippy speeds that’ll keep them relevant for years to come.

Standards body the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) originally defined 4G as technologies that deliver speeds of one gigabit per second to stationary users, but today’s version falls well short of that.

The top laboratory-tested speed on EE’s 4G network is around 50 megabits per second (Mbps) – equal to superfast home broadband. In practice, the company is promising speeds of up to 12Mbps, which is not that different from the latest version of 3G.

The 4G era for Bangladesh

Bangladesh entered into the 3G era in October 2012 through a much publicized auction in where the mobile operators of the country paid an hefty amount to pay the bandwidth to launch 3G service.

Now the telecom regulator Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is set to organize an open auction by December for selling spectrum in three bands, which will ultimately be used for offering full-fledged 4G services in the country.

According to the approved guideline, the floor price for each megahertz of spectrum in the 2,100 band would be $27 million and $30 million in the 900 and 1,800 bands. However, the mobile operators earlier proposed $15 million for each MHz in all three bands.

The spectrum conversion fee for technology neutrality in the existing 900 and 1,800 bands will also be brought down to $7.5 million per megahertz from $10 million. Technology neutrality allows the operators to offer either of 2G, 3G or 4G services from any band as they see fit, a facility that helps in reducing the operational costs and improving the service quality.

At present, market leader Grameen phone is using 14.6 MHz of spectrum in the 1,800 band and 7.4 MHz in the 900 band. Robi has a total of 26.4 MHz of spectrum, Banglalink 15 MHz and state-owned Teletalk 15.2 MHz in the two bands.

Earlier, Prime Minister’s ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy recommended slashing the licence fee and other charges along with loosening the other terms and conditions, all of which were accommodated in the approved guidelines.

The 4G licence fee will be brought down to Tk 10 crore from the BTRC’s earlier proposal of Tk 15 crore and the annual fee to Tk 5 crore from Tk 7.5 crore.According to the guideline, the operators will have to retain the mobile subscribers’ usage data for 12 years.

The operators will have to pay Tk 150 crore to participate in each category of spectrum auction, reads the guideline. They will also have to pay Tk 150 crore as bank performance guarantee for rollout obligation.Under the rollout obligation, the operators will extend 4G services in all divisional headquarters within nine months of getting the licence.

They are also bound to roll out the service in the district headquarters within 18 months and all over the country within three years of acquiring the licence, according to the guideline. The operators will share 5.5 percent gross revenue with the BTRC and another 1 percent for social obligation segment.

In the 4G draft guideline, it is also mentioned that the operators should bring foreign investment. They will not be able to access any investment from the local bank. The speed of 4G is fixed at 100 MPS. The operators have to bear the expense of keeping all data until BTRC permits to delete them. They will also have to ensure quality of service.

What the stakeholders think about it?

While industry stakeholders and expert concerned are psyched about the upcoming 4G roll-out, they think getting return from the huge investment that they need to make to buy the bandwidth would be tough.TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of Association of Mobile Telephone Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB), said that the base price fixed for the spectrum is unrealistic. The conversion fee for tech neutrality proposed by the BTRC is also very high.

Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, CEO of Robi said, we have to question ourselves that whether this is the right time for 4G or not? When we have not been able to utilize all the benefits of 3G, is it necessary to have 4G service now? “A few days ago we have tested our 4G compatibility test so now if you ask us to come up with 4G service, we can say that we are ready for giving you that. We currently have only 1.5% device compatibility for 4G service whereas we have 30% device compatibility for 3G. This 30% was achieved in last three years after the beginning of 3G service is 2013.”

Handset manufacturers see greater potential in 4G rollout and they said it would change our lifestyle. Lion Xia, Chief Operating Officer of Huawei said, “I can see a lot of people are very keen get the answer of the question-what would 4G bring to Bangladesh.”

Xia mentioned when 3G was first introduced here, people saw a significant shift from 2G in terms of speed and latency. “But 4G is not all about improving speed and reducing latency. It’s also about building an eco-system and adopting with flexibility and openness.”

For an average user who likes to surf the web or stream videos, 4G can be heaven. “If you connect a laptop to your mobile link, 4G makes a huge difference. In general, anything involving transferring large amounts of data gets a big boost from 4G. For professionals working in the IT sector, 4G will bring a lot other things.”

For example, he said, the mobile financial services will flourish in geometric manner with the introduction of 4G services. In China, we pay even a street vendor with our mobile phones as we have 4G and a number of MFS. Bangladesh has great MFS like bKash, so with introduction of 4G, the future potential is practically infinite.

Technology-wise, 4G is an evolution,” said Dr Liakot Ali, Professor of Institute of Information and Communication Technology (IICT) of BUET. Dr Ali said the latest version of 3G in Bangladesh is quite close in performance to the current 4G. Actual speeds depend on many factors. Data moves more slowly in the wild than in a lab because information is carried in such large packages, that if there is any interference, the signal degrades fast.

Other factors include the proximity of a mast, the speed of the phone’s processor (the state-of-the-art chip inside a smartphone makes a big difference), and the amount of other users drawing down information from the same cell on the network.

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister for ICT Division meanwhile is very hopeful about the possibilities of 4G network. He said, with the faster speed, 4G will give apps developers the freedom to innovate. This will enable more productivity, get workers to be more efficient and productive and improve quality of work, living, play and learning, he added.

Palak said with 4G boundaries of benefits between enterprises and SMEs will be reduced. Sample applications that 4G can allow are pervasive video and rich-media communication, regardless of applications

“Companies can now really allow work from anywhere, as bandwidth is no longer the bottleneck. Industries like healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and so on, can leverage bigger bandwidth to share real-time data, larger file transfers such as construction blueprints and video-expert support. With better quality bandwidth, new and creative apps can now be enabled without compromise.” ■

 

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