State-owned telecom company BTCL has taken a host of projects worth Tk 22,121 crore in a bid to ready itself for the upcoming 5G technology and at the same time reclaim its lost glory.
“The government is very serious about the 5G mobile services, and this is why, we have to make our system and networks compatible with all modern technologies,” said Md Rafiqul Matin, managing director of Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited, yesterday.
Once the ongoing projects are complete, BTCL can keep up with any operator in the market, he told representatives of the Telecom Reporters’ Network Bangladesh at a meeting.
BTCL is currently working on four projects of Tk 2,835.65 crore for: modernising telecom network, upgrading switches and connections, establishing telecom network in Mirsarai economic zone, and laying fibre optic cables to provide Wi-Fi connections in about 500 schools and colleges.
The company has five projects worth Tk 3,975.5 crore now awaiting approvals from the planning and telecom ministries.
Another nine projects of about Tk 15,310 crore are at the “conceptual stage”, Matin said, adding that all the schemes should be complete within 2030.
As BTCL’s internet protocol-based network was not strong enough to meet the demands of the market, the current management was trying to make their services competitive, he said.
To that end, they have a long list of chores to carry through, a few of them being: establishing fibre optic network in 16 backwater upazilas, building a telecom museum and launching a telecom staff college.
BTCL has conducted feasibility studies before finalising the projects, said AKM Habibur Rahman, deputy managing director (planning) of the company.
Once a hugely profitable enterprise, BTCL embarked on the project spree at a time when its revenue and profit were plumbing new depths every year amid the onslaught of modern mobile phone services.
Its revenue slumped 22.23 per cent to Tk 886.81 crore last fiscal year. In fiscal 2008-09, when it was declared a company from a state organisation, its revenue was Tk 1,689.36 crore and net profit was Tk 106.15 crore. Ten years later, it incurred a loss of Tk 389.39 crore.
The company is at a disadvantage for its ageing assets: in fiscal 2018-19 it had to write off Tk 560.73 crore for depreciation, according to its annual report.
Of BTCL’s total revenue last fiscal year, 58.15 per cent came from depreciation of its assets and establishments: Tk 560.73 crore.
“Our vast assets have become our liability,” Matin had said earlier.
The depreciation was Tk 591.61 crore in fiscal 2017-18, Tk 485.83 crore in 2016-17, and Tk 514.51 crore in 2015-16.
“Our cash flow is quite satisfactory but when the depreciation issue comes up, we become a loss-making company,” Matin said.
Since fiscal 2015-16, BTCL suffered losses of about Tk 1,200 crore.
“The world is moving very fast and if the state-owned companies do not keep pace with that, they will be obsolete,” he said, adding that they were trying to modernise services.