Bangladesh mulling measures as international call business losing ground to free calling apps

The BTRC is worried about Bangladesh’s continued loss of revenue in international call business to the internet-based voice call services apps like Viber, WhatsApp and Imo and considering ‘measures’ on over-the-top (OTT) apps soon.

Published : 25 Nov 2016, 01:55 PM
Updated : 25 Nov 2016, 01:55 PM

“We want to make a decision over the voice call services of those OTT apps within a month or two,” Its Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood has said.

“Not only the illegal VoIP connections, but also the internet-based free calling apps on smartphones are causing losses to Bangladesh’s land-based international call business,” he said at a media conference on Friday.  

He said the data shows the declining number of legal phone calls after the hike in international call rates last year.

“People in Bangladesh receive average 70 million minutes daily. The amount was 120 million minutes before the hike in call termination rate from 1.5 cents to 2 cents per minute in August 2015,” he pointed out.

The BTRC chief, however, does not think the hike in call rate is the main reason behind the shrinking number of calls.

In his view, with the increasing accessibility to the internet on mobile phones, the popularity of apps like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, and Imo, which provide free call over the Internet, is also increasing. This is also impacting the legal voice calls, he says.

"It's a big problem for us. Many calls are also being made through OTT like Viber, Imo or WhatsApp, not only through illegal VoIP. But we are yet to assess the amount of calls now," Mahmood said.

Asked what the government will do about it, he said, "No guideline on this matter has been made yet. We are trying to see examples in other countries. Some of the countries have declared those illegal while some others have allowed only data services, not voice calls."

"We have just begun to think about the matter. We will take a decision on it within a month or two," Mahmood added.

The number of global smartphone users will cross 3.9 billion by the end of 2016, technology firm Ericsson has forecast. It was around 2 billion in 2014.

Some 45 percent of the smartphone users use OTT apps. The size of OTT business will cross $62 billion by 2020, according to a forecast by market analysts Markets and Markets.

The BTRC chief did not provide any data on how much loss in revenue the government has incurred due to illegal VoIP connections and OTT apps.

However, the market analysts put the figure at over Tk 20 million daily.

The government is not the sole victim of the situation. Mobile-phone operators and International Internet Gateway (IIG) operators are also losing share of profits to the OTT apps.

The mobile-phone operators are trying to cover the loss by charging for data for using those apps.

The Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) General Secretary TIM Nurul Kabir told that there was no guideline on OTT in the telecoms sector.

"If the authorities want to make the guideline, they should consult the operators in order to ensure a level playing field," he said.

The government had blocked Viber, Tango, WhatsApp and several other instant messaging apps in January last year citing 'security reasons' following a rise in militancy.