DHAKA: Teletalk’s revenue in fiscal 2016-17 shrank about 28 percent year-on-year to Tk 710 crore — the lowest in three years. The state-run mobile operator, however, did not mention if it made any profit in the report sent to the telecom division. In fiscal 2015-16, Teletalk’s revenue was Tk 986 crore and it had plans to cross the Tk 1,000-crore mark the following year. But, its fortune made a reverse turn. A top official of Teletalk said the operator is badly struggling against its private competitors as it cannot plough back to upgrade its infrastructure. For instance, the state-owned operator has about 1,500 3G towers, which is one-fourth of Banglalink’s, the current No. 3 player in the market. “The private operators made huge innovations in digital services — we cannot match them. We cannot even give offers like them, as we have limitations in the marketing and research and development segments,” he said, asking not to be named.
Teletalk lost a chunk of its subscribers because of the government’s strict stance on illegal call termination and biometric re-registration. In fiscal 2016-17, the operator shed about 12.30 lakh active connections, which is 27.72 percent of the subscribers it had on July 1 last year. Of the connections lost, 3.73 lakh were shed in the first six months of 2017, when the other three operators added 99.63 lakh users, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. “We lost a huge number of customers thanks to the re-registration process and that hit our balance sheet,” said the official. Contacted, Kazi Md Golam Quddus, managing director of Teletalk, declined to comment, saying he does not have the permission to speak with the media. Shyam Sunder Sikder, chairman of Teletalk board and secretary of the telecom division, did not answer calls despite several days of trying. The lone local operator achieved moderate response when it launched 3G service in 2012 — a full year before the private operators. At that time, its customer base expanded significantly, and it managed to maintain the position for the next couple of years, even after the private operators had their 3G rollouts.
In fiscal 2013-14, Teletalk’s revenue was Tk 660.03 crore, which yielded the state-run operator a marginal net profit of Tk 46.4 crore, according to a report of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh. Before and after that year, the state-run operator did not make any profit, as it goes about enjoying different privileges from the government. Another official of Teletalk said the private operators are also facing challenges, citing Banglalink as a case in point. In recent times Banglalink saw negative growth, he said. “So challenges are not only unique to us — the other operators face the same challenges.” The market is capital-intensive and without investing huge amounts of money it is difficult to expect higher revenues or profitability, he added. Teletalk is the country’s smallest operator in terms of subscribers, with a 2.40 percent market share. It started operations in 2005 amid high hopes, but failed to compete with the other five operators due to poor marketing strategy and service.