Bangladesh can make world class mobile phone sets

Overfllow of illegal foreign sets hits industry, claim producers

. B&F Report

Bangladesh can manufacture world class mobile phone sets in the country and save millions of dollar worth foreign currency every year if government extends its policy support to local companies, telecommunications experts say.

Currently 8.65 crore people used mobile phone sets till April 12 last. The number is almost 68.5 per cent of the country’s total population and by 2013, it will cross 10 crore, according to Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

To meet the demand, Bangladesh spends millions of dollar every year against import of mobile sets from abroad. With proper initiative, Bangladesh can save hard-earned currencies worth Tk 5,000 crore each year, experts say.

“We are now able to manufacture quality mobile phone sets and necessary spare parts with the technical support of foreign experts. Even, export is possible after meeting the country’s demand, But we need policy supports- currently not available, Zakaria Swapan, an telecommunication expert now working in a local company told The New Nation.

A discussion on this potential business sector was held recently in the city where telecommunication experts said there is no dearth of technically qualified manpower in the country for this sector, but investors are reluctant to take any risk to invest in this sector as the domestic market is uncontrolled and overflowed by huge mobile sets with imported through illegal channels.

“A number of local entrepreneurs including Walton took initiative to manufacture mobile phone sets in the country during the last couple of years. But they have abandoned their plans in the wake of allowing wholesale import of mobile phones to the country”, Zakaria Swapan said.

Entrepreneurs said smuggling of mobile sets are the main reasons that discourage local manufacturers to invest in this potential sector. Besides, allowing wholesale import of mobile sets have opened scope for overflow the local markets with smuggled imported phone sets. To ensure local production, a level playing field must be ensured, they said.

“We’re interested to invest in this sector if we receive long-term policy support from the government. We have taken preliminary preparations. But the government is yet to support us”, Walton’s senior deputy director Uday Hakim said.

The government must ensure a level playing field for local manufacturers. It must stop inflow of goods through illegal channel and extend policy support to local manufacturers, he said.
He said the government has imposed a low duty on imported mobile sets keeping the interest of common people. But the fact is profit mongers are not willing to private benefit to end-users level.
BTRC officials said that some 8.50 lakh mobile phone sets enter the country every month through legal and illegal channels. Most of these sets come from China. Out of these sets, 5.60 lakh are imported, while the rest 2.90 lakh enter the country through illegal ways. At present, anyone can import mobile phone sets paying import duty at a rate of 12 per cent.
“If mobile phone sets are manufactured in the country, the price will go down by almost 50 per cent”, Uday Hakim said.

For example, he said the cost of an ordinary Chinese mobile phone set now between $25 and $30. But, in Bangladesh market, it is being sold at Tk 6,000-Tk 7,000.
” Who will come forward to invest in this sector in a situation when import is more profitable than production,” Hakim asked adding that Samsung took initiative to manufacture mobile phone sets in Bangladesh several years ago. “But, they subsequently abandoned that plan witnessing uncontrolled import and smuggled phone set market in Bangladesh”.

Lokman Hossain, head of Walton’s international marketing department said the quality of mobile phone sets, which are entering Bangladesh freely from the neighbouring countries, is also questionable. It has become very imperative to allow entry of mobile phone sets into the country through legal and illegal channels, he said.

BTRC chairman Maj Gen (Retd) Zia Ahmed in a recent press conference alleged that most of the imported sets do not have IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers. As a result, illegal uses of mobile phones have crossed the limit.

BTRC chairman has also sent recommendations to the relevant government department requesting not to allow wholesale import of mobile phone sets.

Expert said this newly emerging sector needs policy support to unleash its immense potentials. A large number of people may get employment opportunities in this sector and it is possible to save foreign currencies worth Tk 5,000 crore each year.