The country's three mobile phone operators again sought the regulator's help to rein in Grameenphone (GP), as they fear that the largest market player might grab the total spectrum in the upcoming auction.
They demanded imposing a cap provision on purchasing spectrum by an individual company, which was in force in the last spectrum auction in 2018.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is set to put up only 7.4 MHz spectrum for the auction, scheduled to be held on March 08. However, the total demand for the country's top three mobile operators is 11.4 MHz.
Robi, Banglalink and the state-run Teletalk have already sent a letter to the telecom regulator, requesting the cap during this auction, so that no operator is deprived of getting its necessary spectrum.
If an operator takes hold of the lion's share of the available spectrum due to lack of any allocation cap, it may jeopardise the notion of a level-playing field in the telecom sector, the letter noted.
The country's leading operator, GP, currently has 19.6 MHz of spectrum in the 1,800-MHz band, which is the highest among the operators.
However, the company has applied for more than 4.8 MHz of spectrum, which (if allocated) may affect the remaining operators, given the BTRC's spectrum scarcity.
"Considering the limited spectrum availability in the 1,800-MHz band to be assigned among the interested mobile operators, we request the commission to consider a maximum spectrum capping, so that each mobile operator gets equal spectrum to ensure a level-playing field," the letter read.
They also requested for direct spectrum allocation to the operators in the 1,800-MHz band instead of distributing spectrum through auction.
According to the spectrum auction guidelines, 7.40 MHz spectrum from the 1,800-MHz band will be auctioned in five blocks, and 15 MHz spectrum from the 2,100-MHz band will be auctioned in three blocks.
The five blocks from 7.4 MHz for the 1,800-MHz band are 2.2 MHz, 2.2 MHz, 2.2 MHz, 0.4 MHz, 0.4 MHz, and the three blocks of 5.0 MHz each from the 2,100-MHz band.
The need for spectrum has surged in recent times to cover the network operators' customer bases, which are witnessing new subscribers, especially amid the pandemic.
The three operators stood together against GP on many occasions, including against the decision to allow GP to offer free minutes to its subscribers last year.
The market leader and its three rivals - Robi, Banglalink and Teletalk - were also at loggerheads over spectrum procurement last year.
The discord emerged when the three mobile phone operators urged the BTRC to give them free additional spectrum for three months to cope with their surging spectrum demand during the lockdown for containing the coronavirus pandemic spread in the country.
GP and Banglalink voiced their objection to Airtel's spectrum renewal at a lower price in December 2020 as well, as its validity was going to end on December 19, 2020.
They demanded that the spectrum be sold at a price, set during the last auction in February 2018.