2019-12-31 18:25:47 BdST

Big bang in ICT turned the nation digital


A decade ago, Bangladesh was still at the dawn of mobile internet use. The light of information through the world wide web was just beginning to illuminate mobile phone users of the country.

But suddenly, a big bang occurred, and within a decade, the number of mobile users jumped from 6.87 crore in 2010 to 15.75 crore in 2019.

And through this hyperjump into cyberspace via mobile internet, the nation underwent a lot of behavioural changes. Almost all social and economic activities including business, communication, financial transactions, entertainment, education have gone online.

But like a shadow behind every light, we also misused the internet by spreading false news through social media and fake news sites to fuel hatred and violence.

Bangladesh today stands at the top of the mobile penetration list in the mainland sub-continent with over 97.28 percent penetration, followed by India with 86.6 percent penetration.

The country is number two among South-Asian countries in terms of internet penetration.

According to Internet World Stats, Bangladesh has the second-highest internet penetration in the South-Asian region with 57.2 percent coverage of the total population. The Maldives, an island nation, leads the region with almost 82 percent coverage of the total population.

The country's internet network witnessed a 50 percent growth in 2016.

Now, at least one member of a lower income or even a poor family owns a phone set.

The fast wave of digitalisation created huge online jobs for unemployed educated youths. This turned Bangladesh into the world's second-largest freelancing community with six lakh IT freelancers, according to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). Only India is ahead of Bangladesh in this.

Mobile internet has reshaped the banking sector with e-banking and technology-driven financial transactions.

The country had only about four lakh credit cardholders a decade ago, but that has now grown to 14. 57 lakh.

Seven crore people are now involved in mobile banking systems such as bKash, Rocket, and Nagad. In a way, banking has become more inclusive.

E-commerce and digital shopping were hardly known a decade ago. But today, Bangladesh is ranked 46th in the global ranking in terms of e-commerce revenue, according to German research firm Statista.

Fuelled by mobile internet, the country's e-commerce sector today generates revenue of $1.6 billion, and that is expected to double to $3 billion in the next four years, the research said.

Currently, there are more than 2,000 e-commerce companies that provide various services, including online shopping and consultancy.

The e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh, however, estimates the growth of the sector is much larger than is shown in the data released by Statista.

"We did not think that the e-commerce industry would reach the position it has today. Every day we have more than 40,000 online deliveries, and the annual transaction is more than Tk2,000 crore," said Abdul Wahed Tomal, general secretary of the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh.

He said there are many factors responsible for this growth, especially the government's mandate for a digital Bangladesh.

Technology has also changed the nature of our RMG sector, the biggest contributor to our export earnings. Almost all factories now use upgraded technology and machinery to boost efficiency and reduce production costs.

Some textile and spinning industries have started using modern robotics technologies to boost productivity, deliver products on time, and meet the demand for finer products from global retailers and brands.

4th Generation Network and the telecom

In 2009, there was no generation-based network in the country. An analog network was the only mode used for feature phone communication.

Bangladesh started the 4th Generation (4G) network service on February 19, 2018. The agencies concerned claimed that this network covered all districts of the country, however, there is a question about the quality of the network.

Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar sees this progress as an outstanding achievement for the country.

"We were an agricultural country. From that position, we turned around and reached a leading position, which is a big achievement," said Mustafa Jabbar.

He said that telecom is no more a mode of communication; it is now the highway of the digital era. Our life will be more digitised if the highway is made strong.

In the face of a huge growth in mobile phone subscriptions and internet usage, the market for fixed phones or land-phones has gone down in the last decade.

The number of land-lines has decreased from 10 lakh to 6 lakh, which has made the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd a losing concern.

Experts said the sector has experienced some quantitative progress, but qualitative service is still a far cry.

ICT expert and chief technology officer (CTO) of [email protected], Sumon Ahmed Sabir, thinks that the country should have made more progress in this sector.

"We have made some progress, but compared to a country like Vietnam, we are still behind," said Sumon Ahmed Sabir.

The telecom sector also faced some problems because of the dispute over audit claims involving Tk13,446 crore between the government and two leading mobile phone service providers of the country.

The growth of mobile subscribers and internet users is being held back because of this dispute.

Mobile phone service providers are facing some difficulty because the regulator has imposed restrictions on the import of network equipment, current network maintenance, and the offering of new services.

No new tower has been erected because of the introduction of the tower license regime, putting more pressure on the existing network as new connections were added.

Footprint on the space

In the last decade, Bangladesh took a great leap forward with the launching of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 in May 2018, to become the 57th member of the world's satellite elite club.

The satellite is providing telecommunication services like direct-to-home (DTH), very small aperture terminal (VSAT), video distribution and broadband, etc.

All TV channels of Bangladesh used to use the Hong Kong-based Star Alliance's satellite before the launch of the Bangabandhu Satellite-1. TV channels have benefited because they can use the satellite at a lower cost.

Digital Governance

The digital era has changed the concept of governance all over the world. Bangladesh is no exception.

The ICT division has taken the initiative of the e-filing or e-Nothi programme for official document management in government offices.

This programme includes e-installment of the government service fee, National Information Window, Agriculture Window.

The Information and Communication Technology Division of the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology took up the multimedia classroom programme to make the learning and teaching system more attractive.

Under this programme innovation like the e-learning platform, the classroom monitoring app, dashboard, e-books, and digital talking books were implemented in 23,331 secondary and 15,000 primary schools.

The dark side

Social media is now a big part of our everyday life, and influences our perception of reality. But some people also use the internet to spread fake news and fuel hatred and violence.

Fake Facebook posts have incited violence in various parts of the country, including Ramu, Brahmanbaria, Noakhali, and recently in Bhola.

The decade also saw a rise of extremism in the country spreading via the internet. Several unprecedented terror events stirred the nation since the rise of information and communication technology.

But strong measures taken by the government successfully eliminated extremist elements. The government also framed a digital security act and banned over 22,000 websites related to pornography and gambling.

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