Grameenphone’s ambition to expand the rural boundaries
In the second part of this five-article series on Abu Saeed Khan's 'Partner in Digitalization 1997 - 2022', we will take a look at the key developments that lead to Grameenphone's current success in the rural development of Bangladesh - making it a top telecommunication choice for rural mobile users in the country.
An indispensable part of Grameenphone's success lies in its contribution to Bangladesh's rural development. During the first 25 years since the nation's independence, access to a telephone was considered a matter of privilege. Back then, telecommunication access in rural areas was deemed impossible. Nowadays, a significant number of rural citizens use Grameenphone for day-to-day activities, including managing successful rural business ventures.
Grameenphone's switch to optical fiber transmission systems paved the way for telecommunication access in rural sectors and remote villages. The nationwide coverage expansion meant that there was no communication barrier between urban and rural markets - opening new opportunities for rural business to flourish.
One strategy that particularly helped rural expansion was the flattening of national call charges. Introduced in 1999, Grameenphone's prepaid billing system enabled low-income citizens to avail the benefits of instant telecommunication. Rural workers living in the cities could now call their families anytime, opening accessibility of services for Bangladeshis all around the nation. Charging small denominators in scratch cards also helped bridge the financial gap among daily mobile phone users.
Being connected with the citylife via a handset also meant new job opportunities for rural citizens aiming to settle in the cities. The garment industry, in particular, saw a major increase in female workers arriving in Dhaka when Grameenphone expanded rural network coverage.
Empowering rural networks
To respond to this rise in business opportunities, phone operator shops were set up in villages where rural citizens could call their family members at a low cost. These rural phone operators could also be contacted by migrated workers wishing to call back home to a family that did not own a mobile phone.
A study published by the Canadian International Development Agency in 2000 stated that a phone call from a village to Dhaka ranged from 2.64% to 9.8% of a regular consumer's monthly household income. Conversely, a trip to the city would cost two to eight times that amount.
This meant that rural citizens could save up to Tk. 490 for a phone call instead of traveling to the city. The study also revealed that operators running these phone booths earned 24% to 40% of their average household income - making such jobs lucrative and economically viable.
Training in modern technology
Aside from providing solar-powered charging facilities and pole-mounted external antennas to improve the network, Grameenphone also ensured that the rural users were sufficiently trained in using mobile handsets.
Abu Saeed Khan's report states that when GSM mobile phones were first launched in rural Bangladesh, it was relatively easy to teach rural citizens the English numeric keypad of mobile phones. Basic education in modern technology opened the path for a sustainable supply chain management which further connected the urban side of Bangladesh to the rural, thus bridging a previously difficult gap through the power of interconnected telecommunication.
Grameenphone's contribution to the development of rural Bangladesh left a long-standing impact on the nation's financial and technological advancements. With further expansion of rural network coverage and easier access to modern technology, rural citizens are steadily on their way towards a self-sustaining, thriving economy.
[The viewpoints and findings in this article are based on Abu Saeed Khan's compiled report 'Partner in Digitalization 1997 - 2022'. You can find the entire report on Grameenphone's official website, accessible here.]