Telecommunication established first in Bangladesh by the postal system through telegraph. Later, under government initiative and control, telephone was introduced and readily accepted by users as a useful device. But until the end 1970s, telephone service remained limited to government offices, business communities of large and medium towns, and a few privileged urban citizens.
The British government introduced telecom services in the subcontinent in 1853 with the setting up of the Posts and Telecommunication Department. After independence in 1971, Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone (T&T) Department was created as a successor to that parent organisation under the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MOPT) to run the telecommunication services on a commercial basis. Bangladesh T&T Department was converted into a corporate body in 1976. In pursuance of an Ordinance promulgated by the President on 24 February 1979, the department was restructured into Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph Board (BTTB) with a mandate to provide basic telecommunication services throughout the country. BTTB was comprised of a chairman as its head and four full-time and three part-time members, appointed by government, to assist him. The Ministry holds the responsibility of telecom sector regulation. The Telegraph Act of 1985 is the primary law governing the sector and has granted the government exclusive power to establish and provide all telecommunications services and products. The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933 governs the operation of one way radio communications, paging and radio services. The BTTB Ordinance of 1979 provided BTTB the monopoly rights and powers for issuing license for telecommunications and wireless services. In October 1995, the government amended the BTTB Ordinance 1979 and transferred the regulatory authority from BTTB to MOPT. BTTB provided some value added services as Dial-Up and Leased Line Internet services, International Private Leased Circuit (IPLC) services, Digital Subscribers Line (DSL), Telex Services and Packet Switch Data Network (PSDN) services. The government had created Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to deal with the policy making and supervising duties in 2001 promulgating the Telecommunication Act and later in 2008 BTTB was transformed into a public limited company named Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited (BTCL). BTCL's prime responsibility is to provide telecom service on a commercial basis.
The services offered by BTCL include public telephone services, telex, telegraphy, nation wide dialing, transmission links, trunk automatic exchange, overseas communication services, international trunk exchange, data communication service, internet services, digital subscribers line, and international private leased circuit. At the end of 1998-99, BTTB had 631 telephone exchanges with a total capacity of 474,322 lines. BTTB started operating digital local exchanges after installation of six exchanges in the Dhaka Telecom Region Network in 1990-91 with total initial capacity of 26,000 lines. Up to July 1999, 15 local digital exchanges were installed in the Dhaka region, 12 in Chittagong, 10 in Khulna, and 7 in Rajshahi regions. BTCL installed 585 digital telephone exchanges throughout the country by 2011. It is also operating 108 analogue exchanges which are being transformed into digital system in phases. By May 2010, these exchanges helped to provide services to 872 thousand subscribers. At present, BTCL is providing telephone services to about one million subscribers down to upazila and grass-root level. The number was 870 thousand in 2006. Most of the subscribers can use dial up internet service. Having the largest telecom infrastructure, BTCL offer the cheapest rates for telephone and internet. There were 32433 dail-up internet subscribers of BTCL. Bcube, it's broadband internet service is also being subscribed by a good number of users.
Earlier BTTB installed digital subscriber line nodes at 5 exchanges in Dhaka and Chittagong, Sylhet, Khulna and Bogra. The growth of telephone exchange capacity in Bangladesh from 1994-95 to 1999-2000 was on average only 40,000 lines per year. The demand for telephone lines is increasing at a rate much faster than the capacity to supply them. BTTB installed new digital telephone exchanges both for expansion of exchange capacity and to replace the old analog exchanges.
The revenue collection of BTTB for financial year 1998-99 was Tk 12,542.48 million. The revenue increased to over Tk 14,000 million in 1999-2000, of which 96.85% came only from telephones In 2008-09, BTCL earned 20813 mllion taka revenue, it was 15653 million taka in the previous year. It has 19066 staffs including 10325 regular and about 5000 causal staffs. Earlier, BTTB had 19,317 regular which were absorbed in BTCL. Of them 568 were engineers and 10,597 were technical workmen. The Telecommunication Staff College provides training to engineers. Additionally, there are three telecommunication-training centres and five telecommunication-training sub-centres for training of staff and technicians.'
Coin Boxes were introduced in urban areas in the mid-1980s and land-line wireless public call offices (PCOs) were established in rural areas to provide public telephone services. Card telephones were introduced to wipe off the degraded service quality of coin boxes and PCOs. By November 2000, about 1400 Card phone booths were installed in different locations of the country covering almost all upazilas. All card phone booths have NWD facilities and around 750 of them have ISD facility. Due to higher accessibility and better technology the card phone system gained wide popularity.
The first digital Telex exchange in Bangladesh was established in May 1981. In December 1999, there were three fully digital Storage Programme Controlled (SPC) telex exchanges working in Dhaka. Six districts (Narayanganj, Chittagong, Sylhet, Khulna, Jessore and Bogra) were brought under the switching control of the Gate Way Exchange by installing Tele-Printer Exchanges (TPXs). In January 2000, in a joint venture with British Telecom, BTTB introduced Global Telecom Service (GTS), in which the Telex Exchange is located at Birmingham (UK) with multiplexed connection with Dhaka and other places. GENTEX telegraph Service was introduced in 1989. The number of such service centres is 135 at present. All major cities, towns and growth centres are interconnected with an integrated nationwide telecommunications facility through 8 Trunk Automatic Exchanges and a number of microwave, ultra-high frequency (UHF) and very high frequency (VHF) links. The thana to district headquarters links are almost 100% digital.
Private entrepreneurs are allowed in Bangladesh to provide telephone and e-mail service as operators. Bangladesh Rural Telecom Authority was the first private company to get license from the government in 1989 to operate and maintain digital phone exchanges in 200 upazilas. Sheba Telecom (Pvt) Ltd. was granted license in the same year to operate in the rural areas of 199 upazilas. They were also allowed to extend cellular mobile radio-telephone services. Other private companies now operating in the telecommunication sector to operate with similar services are City Cell, the Pacific Bangladesh Telephone Ltd (1989), Bangladesh Telecom (1989), Grameen Phone (1996) AKTEL (now Robi), Telephone Malaysia International Bangladesh (1996), Teletalk, a government enterprise (2004), Banglalink (2005) former Sheba telecom and Airtel (2007) former Warid. Till February 2011, the total number of subscribers of these six mobile phone companies increased to 71.5 million.
There are four satellite earth stations with three international Gate Way Exchanges through which international telecommunication service is provided in the country. There is an automatic digital International Trunk Exchange (ITX) installed in Dhaka in 1983 with working capacity (1999) of 1,049 trunk circuits, of which 301 are International and 748 are domestic. The second and third ITX were commissioned in 1995 in Dhaka. The total number of working international circuits is 3,936. Operator assisted overseas trunk calls are provided by these exchanges. International direct dialing is also provided to subscribers through digital exchanges installed in different places of Bangladesh. By 2011, the number of such ITX increased to 5. As the dial exchanges set up in Bangladesh have international dialing facility. BTRC awarded license to six private companies, in addition to BTCL for providing telecom services. These include two ITX, 3 international gateway (1GW) and one international internet gateway (11G).
There are also remote operator assisted terminals at four other locations in the country. For rendering international telecom services, one standard 'A' type station operates at Betbunia in the southeastern part of the country, while one 'B' type earth station operates at Talibabad, 33 miles away from Dhaka city. The second digital standard 'A' station was set up at Dhaka and a new earth station was installed at Sylhet by British Telecom. There are two microwave links (Dhaka-Calcutta and Dhaka-Nepal) for overseas communication. The Dhaka-Calcutta link has 59-voice circuits and the Dhaka-Nepal link has 12 voice channels. BTTB installed a Packet Switched Data Network in Dhaka and 5 other cities (Chittagong, Rajshahi, Bogra, Khulna, and Sylhet). This network caters services for leased lines, and dial up subscribers.
The use of internet began in Bangladesh in 1995. BTCL (former BTTB) started providing dial-up and leased line internet services in Dhaka and four other major cities, namely Chittagong, Bogra, Khulna and Sylhet. The internet access was established via Mohakhali Satellite Earth Station with Teleglobe, Canada. Private internet service provider companies (ISP) were allowed to render services through V-sat from 1996. The number of ISPs in Bangladesh was 180 in 2005. The country was connected with the information super high way through sub-marine cable in 2004. Bangladesh and 14 other countries is member of the 18,800 km network known as SEA-ME-WE-4 cable system, which connected the countries of Europe, Middle East and Africa with South Asia. A subsidiary company of BTCL, Bangladesh Sub-marine Cable Company looks after the network responsible for international phone call and internet system. According to BTRC, about 90 million Bangladeshi are now using telephones and 30 million users are getting internet services. [Mahbubul Alam]