The telecommunications industry is crucial for the socio-economic development of Bangladesh.
As a developing country, Bangladesh has witnessed how an efficient and thriving telecom industry increases smartphone penetration, connectivity, digital inclusion, and productivity of other sectors.
In 2020, Bangladesh’s GDP grew by an additional $2.3 billion due to increased dependence and expansion in mobile phone use, as well as direct and indirect results of activities enabled by mobile phones. telecommunications industry.
The regulatory authorities seem positively persistent in their efforts to improve the telecommunication system and achieve excellence by introducing next-generation technologies to realize the vision of “digital Bangladesh”.
However, if the industry cannot combat the theft and vandalism of telecommunications equipment, a less discussed concern, such as incidents of theft, can render all efforts futile.
Previously, only mobile operators in Bangladesh were responsible for the construction and maintenance of BTS towers.
In 2018, BTRC issued four tower sharing licenses to tower companies.
In line with the tower sharing policy, tower companies are now responsible for constructing new towers, sharing existing towers, and operating and maintaining them.
The primary objective of the Tower Sharing Directive is to advance the industry with improved efficiency, while towerco will focus on building new towers and maintaining them to meet industry standards, and mobile operators will focus on improving network service for end users.
However, it has recently been raised as a serious concern that the goal of improving the telecommunications industry and satisfying customers is in serious jeopardy due to ongoing theft and vandalism, which results in significant annual revenue loss for industry players and government.
Leading tower company edotco, which has a 33% market share of all towers owned or managed by edotco, acknowledged with grave concern that it had suffered 242 incidents of theft at a rate of 1, 85% in 2021.
Another stat reveals that in 2020, edotco had to spend Tk 21.23 crore to replace and repair vandalized equipment.
Unfortunately, this money would otherwise have been used to improve equipment, technology and industry development, which means that incidents of theft have severely hampered the growing growth of the telecommunications industry in Bangladesh.
Why the flight
According to the sources, the theft and vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure is mainly driven by the high demand for Li-ion batteries and the accessibility of battery re-engineering workshops across the country.
In 2021, 94% of theft incidents primarily involved batteries.
Additionally, the isolation of tower sites, particularly at night, has provided additional benefits to these criminal activities, which have become more prevalent during the Covid-19 shutdowns.
The nature of thefts and vandalism shows that the perpetrators are technically competent and familiar with telecom components.
In most cases, the perpetrators were identified as vehicle drivers, former security guards and local technicians employed in motor and rickshaw repair shops.
In Sylhet and Jessore areas, particularly in Satkhira, the existence of local gangs was clear, resulting in a 10% and 7% probability of robbery incidents in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
Most methods of entry involve breaking doors or latch plates and breaking the ventilation system using gas cutters, welding machines, hand grinders, hydraulic hammers, etc.
Sometimes the situation is aggravated by the local police’s lack of attention to these theft incidents.
Even after being apprehended, perpetrators sometimes receive bail within days and continue to steal, rendering such arrests ineffective.
A recent trend identified by edotco shows that in 32% of cases, thieves used site access keys to enter a site with Abloy locks.
In other cases, they access the site by displaying false credentials as representatives of the tower company.
Sometimes they twist the doorbell alarm cable.
Highly skilled thieves can steal batteries without interrupting the DC power to the equipment.
There have also been instances of partial battery theft, which makes it difficult for sites to shut down, and thefts go unreported for an extended period of time.
Companies have taken measures such as improving site security and digitizing key and lock systems to prevent incidents of theft from causing huge financial losses.
These measures have paid off and improved the situation.
Immediately after replacing Abloy/Accys locks with digital locks, edotco Bangladesh saw results with theft incidents decreasing by 83%, leading to a 40% decrease in theft incidents in 2021 compared to 2020 and saving of 10.6 crore Tk over the past 2.5 years. .
In recent years, 232 of the 340 successful theft attempts averted at edotco tower sites have resulted from security measures.
The remaining 108 were successfully thwarted by the local population, indicating that security measures should be combined with increased social awareness through the distribution of leaflets, increased patrols and vigilance with operators, and frequent visits to the local police stations to gain support from local administration and law enforcement agencies. agencies.
Since most criminals are already familiar with existing security technologies, sites need to be redesigned to eliminate security vulnerabilities.
According to the industry, building and land owners should be incentivized with higher rents to prevent attempted theft.
Frequent theft attempts over the past few years are one of the main causes of poor network coverage for customers today.
While the next focus of telecom operators and tower companies in Bangladesh is to establish 5G network infrastructure, theft incidents will continue to be a major concern for international and local investors if not immediately addressed. treated.
The deployment of 5G entails the assembly of advanced and expensive technologies.
If the situation does not improve and the security of 5G equipment is not ensured, there will be a reversal of recent progress as this will lead to significant financial losses for mobile operators and tower companies, a delay in the deployment of 5G and a significant loss. revenue for the government.
Ultimately, this will impact the growth of the communications industry and the nation’s digital outlook, resulting in poor network coverage for the public.
According to the opinion of industry experts, all industry players must come together to put an end to these criminal activities as soon as possible.
To solve this problem, frequent dialogues, collaboration and cooperation between industry players are highly desirable.
Industry participants should seek assistance and corrective action from local law enforcement and administrative agencies.
Additionally, industry players need to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) of theft reduction to address the issue with utmost urgency.
The author is the National Managing Director of edotco Bangladesh