Erik Ace, CEO, banglalink.
According to the World Bank, Bangladesh one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The economy has grown at an average rate of 6.8% per year over the past ten years. So while Bangladesh is currently the 41st largest economy in the world, Bangladesh is expected to reach 25th place in 2035.
One of the main factors contributing to Bangladesh’s rapid growth is the nationwide drive for digitization. Mobile subscriptions have seen impressive growth in the country, ranging from 86 million subscribers in 2016 to 178 million today. According to one GSMA report, “mobile technologies and services generate more than 5% of Bangladesh’s GDP”, both directly and indirectly.
In comparison, India, which was the fastest-growing mobile market in the world in 2016 with over 1 billion subscribers, has remained stable ever since. In fact it is is lost mobile subscriptions since 2018. Same loss in other comparable markets like Indonesia where mobile subscriptions fell from 385 million to 355 million over the same period.
Going forward, I believe that the availability of digital services over high-speed networks will be the main growth engine in Bangladesh. Where the telecom industry once concentrated on voice and SMS, companies now offer a complete digital suite to customers in Bangladesh via their mobile phone.
The concept of a digital operator has transformed businesses and changed the lives of millions of people for the better. Broadly speaking, the evolution of a digital operator has two dimensions. The first is what you bring to your customers regarding services and content. Second, how to build your network, ecosystem, field operations, etc. You have to excel in both areas.
Building a successful content strategy
I work from the philosophy that it is better to have 10 great digital services instead of 50 average.
A successful content approach in this and similar market includes providing mobile broadband connectivity with access to the same content you might see elsewhere in the world, in addition to apps and services developed specifically for the local market.
In our case, such an app is the streaming service Toffee, which has remained the number one spot in the entertainment category of Google Play for two years. Toffee is the first local user-generated content platform where talents from all over the country can create and monetize their content and gain exposure. A good example of this is Mohima Dev Thrayee, a young girl who recently won The Toffee Star Search and generated significant local media coverage in addition to earning the equivalent of approximately $27,000 in prize money.
The keys to success are making apps free and easy to use, as well as using local language and cultural references that resonate with consumers. Some good examples of this are the ride-sharing platform, Pathao, internet shopping and delivery platform, ChalDal and bKash, a bank-led mobile financial services company.
Speaking of financial services, this is a particularly promising area for mobile operators. In some emerging markets, mobile banking is the first and only opportunity many people have to access financial services. Some regulatory barriers in Bangladesh are holding back unbanked people, but I expect many more subscribers to use mobile financial services in the future.
In addition to entertainment and financial services, subscribers in Bangladesh also have access to digital health services. In some cases, this can be as simple as an app that merges existing online healthcare services such as consultations or drug planning.
The last category worth mentioning is gaming. Popular games are games that don’t need to be streamed, that can be downloaded (preferably free) and played with no hidden costs. Again, if you can find something with local languages, all the better.
Building a successful network strategy
Great content is nothing without fast networks. Bangladesh has 95% coverage of 4G but only about 50% smartphone penetration according to the GSMA. Operators are faced with difficult strategic choices to ensure future growth. One school of thought suggests that building ubiquitous coverage is the path to success, but an alternative and perhaps more economically sensible approach is to build super-fast guaranteed coverage in higher-density areas.
Mobile penetration, especially smartphone penetration, will continue to increase in Bangladesh. While the young urban population is currently the early adopter of digital services, the potential for digitization extends across all segments and geographies.
The future is bright in Bangladesh
Digital operators in Bangladesh provide services that contribute to a positive impact on people and society. It’s tempting to look at other markets further down the digital operator’s path and copy their successful strategies, but we need to tailor our services to the people of Bangladesh. Fortunately, a growing customer base means we have the opportunity to gain deeper market insights, and that helps us provide a more tailored service. It’s a positive circle of improvement that suggests to me that the future in Bangladesh is very bright.