If Grameenphone fails to build its capacity in the next six months, there could also be a customer service gap
Grameenphone will be in a tight corner after two or three weeks if the telecom regulator does not allow the company to sell any new SIM cards or resell the numbers that have been blocked.
"Currently, there is a daily demand for 50,000 new SIMs. But the BTRC stopped issuing no-objection certificates to Grameenphone last year," said the telecom operator's new Chief Executive Officer Yasir Azman on his first day in the office.
There could be a SIM crisis like that of onions, said Yasir at GP house in Dhaka on Monday. "Three million existing SIMs have got stuck in the recycling process as we are yet to get the government's go-ahead signal. It will be impossible for us to meet the market demand for more than two or three weeks with the SIMs we have."
However, the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) Chairman, Md Jahurul Haque, denied any chance of a crisis developing. "We allocated 017 series to Grameenphone with 10 crore slots and 013 with 1 crore slots. But as of December last year, the mobile operator's active customer number stands at 7.64 crore. If the company does not follow the High Court order, it will not get no-objection certificates for new SIMs."
The telecom operator said it could not invest around $60 million last year because of the dispute with the BTRC.
The BTRC stopped Grameenphone from making new investments in July last year to realise its disputed audit claims.
Grameenphone has since been unable to expand its networks, although it had many new users last year.
Earlier on January 16, amid Grameenphone's year-long scuffle with the telecom regulator, Telenor Group announced the appointment of Yasir as the new CEO of the company. "A new CEO is nothing special. Every two to three years, Grameenphone gets a new CEO. However, I happen to be a Bangladeshi CEO, which everyone has highlighted."
About the country's business environment, Yasir said that investors are concerned about investing in Bangladesh, where a company like Grameenphone, with local and international shareholders, is struggling.
"We participate in different roadshows around the world every quarter of the year, where many investors join. We would project the business environment in Bangladesh through them. But in the last two cycles, we could not present anything."
Asked about the improvement of relations with the government, Yasir said: "If we don't work with the regulator, we cannot solve the problem, whether it is Robi or Grameenphone.
"I have reached out to the BTRC chairman and the telecommunications minister. And I have had a positive response from them. Just wait a few weeks to see the result."
Regarding customers' sufferings, he said in the last six months, the company could not invest in network expansion and capacity building. But it does not mean that Grameenphone could not provide services when that is what it did in the previous 23 years.
"But if we cannot build capacity in the next six months, there will be a customer service gap."
"During the last July-August, we worked in full swing. We had plans of bringing 10,000 new sites under the 4-G network. But we could not roll out hundreds of such sites and import some equipment required for regular maintenance."
"We failed to invest around $60 million. So, if there is big pressure on our data centre that would be a disaster for the country. So we are at risk."
Among others, Hossain Sadat, director and head of regulatory affairs, Khairul Basher, head of communication, and Md Hasan, head of external communications of Grameenphone, were present on the occasion.