Experts divided on 5G necessity – The Daily Star

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Experts are split on the necessity of rolling out 5G in Bangladesh due to several critical issues.

Some believe the delay in implementing 5G technology may cause the country to lag behind in digital infrastructure, economic growth, and technological innovation, affecting its global competitiveness and limiting access to high-speed internet for businesses and consumers.

“Before the launch of 4G, we didn’t even think that it would revolutionise services like video streaming, e-commerce and mobile gaming,” said a top official of a company in the telecom sector, wishing anonymity.

“If 5G isn’t launched, you might not realise what transformative advancements you’re missing out on,” the official added.

According to Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, former CEO of Robi Axiata, the return on investment for 5G is unclear and given the current forex crisis, it is deemed a non-essential service.

“With low 4G device usage, allocating funds to enhance 4G device availability and network strength would be more beneficial for the nation,” he said.

“Even if 5G is pursued, it should be limited to select areas like port authorities and the military. For general use, it is not justifiable under the current circumstances,” he added.

Even leading 5G pioneers such as Japan, China and South Korea struggle to get a return on investment, he said.

Operators would need to double their sites for 5G deployment, which requires more than just setting up radio access network equipment on existing sites. Device penetration remains a significant hurdle, he added.

According to Khaled Mahmud, a professor of the Institute of Business Administration at the University of Dhaka, two factors primarily hinder development of 5G in Bangladesh.

Firstly, Bangladesh has not yet widely adopted the technological paradigm shift represented by 5G, he said.

“Our businesses, customers, and government agencies are still unclear on the sheer magnitude of transformative changes possible,” he said.

Second, the number and variety of business models that would drive demand for and adoption of 5G are sparse at present. This makes large-scale deployment of this technology an unprofitable venture for cellular companies, he said.

However, he pointed out that the delay in 5G adoption limits the country’s businesses in creating novel, real-time, and scalable value.

“It impedes our government agencies from delivering individual and community-level solutions to tackle education, healthcare, agricultural, energy, and climate issues. In all, it holds back our citizens in reaching higher productive and welfare potential,” Mahmud said.

In the upcoming decade, Bangladesh could face significant competitive hurdles, especially if peer nations such as Vietnam continue to make progress in commercialising 5G, he added.

He said the primary solution is not regulatory or infrastructural.

“It is mostly a demand-side problem that requires demand-side intervention. Businesses need to innovate and come up with new models that can exploit 5G,” said Mahmud.

More importantly, the technologies that can harness 5G, such as large networks of the internet of things (IoT) devices, robotics, big data and AR/VR-powered e-commerce, need to be “localised” by finding profitable use cases, said Mahmud.

Top academic institutions for both technical and business education can be major partners in providing timely research insights to bridge these technologies with innovative local use cases, he added.

Device penetration is the major challenge to 5G rollout in Bangladesh, said TIM Nurul Kabir, a telecom expert.

Since many services have now turned to the digital sphere, 5G is essential for faster data and increased bandwidth supply, he added.

“However, we should evaluate the lessons we learned from 4G before launching 5G,” he added.

Mahtab Uddin Ahmed recommended that Bangladesh follow Malaysia’s Single Wholesale Network (SWN) model for 5G when the time comes to eventually launch the technology.

The SWN model, implemented by Digital Nasional Berhad, is a unique approach where a single government-owned entity is responsible for building and operating the 5G network infrastructure, with major telecom operators acquiring shares of the entity.

“In Bangladesh, operators and top broadband service providers can team up for such an initiative, reduce infrastructure duplication and lower the overall cost of deploying 5G,” he added.

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