Interviews

Dr. Shahjahan Mahmood, Chairman, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC)

Dr. Shahjahan Mahmood joined Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) as the Chairman on the third week of October 2015 with an experience of 20 years in the field of Corporate Governance, Communication Engineering, Acquisition Process, Technical Management, Policy Formulation, and Implementation. Previously, he served the US Marine Corps at Quantico Marine Base, VA; first as the Program Office Software Lead and then as a Systems Engineer for the Acquisition and Modernization of a Surveillance System from 2012 onwards.
He also performed several tasks during the years 2004 to 2012 at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Indian Head, MD, the USA, such as safety analysis of weapons, health monitoring of solid propellant rockets, information assurance of computer networks, etc. Before joining the Indian head of NSWC, he worked as a Systems Engineer in Electronic Warfare Branch Washington, DC of the Naval Research Lab for four years, and gained another four years of experience at the Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), and Patuxent River. He also acted as the Lead Engineer in the Simulation and Stimulation Branch developing software for simulating IR and UAV sensors on aircraft.
After completing his undergrad in B.Sc. Eng. (Elect.) from BUET, Dr. Shahjahan obtained an M.S degree in Operations Research from MIT. Later on, he finished his EEE degree majoring in Communication Engineering and obtained a Ph.D. Degree in Systems Engineering from the same school. Furthermore, he taught graduate level courses in Stochastic Processes as an Adjunct Faculty for three years at the Florida Institute of Technology, Patuxent River MD Campus. He has presented research papers and led many sessions on Structural Health Monitoring Conferences held at Stanford University, USA and also in other countries such as Japan, Australia, Spain, Italy, and the UK. Recently in an interview with ICE Business Times, he shared the development and present state of the telecommunication industry in Bangladesh and BTRC’s contribution in the overall process.

“The definition of cyberspace which was previously confined up to desktop and emails only, has now changed widely with the advent of high speed internet and smart mobile phone communication.”

With significant contribution from BTRC, the telecommunication sector has played a major role in the development of communication grounds in the society over the past decade. What is your view on the expanding role of BTRC?
The definition of cyberspace which was previously confined up to desktop and emails only, has now changed widely to include high speed internet and smart mobile phone communication. The mobile phone network has greatly contributed in sectors like Mobile Financial Banking, Medical Health (MH), Education, e-Governance and e-Commerce etc. Among these, mobile banking’s success is readily palpable as it has successfully introduced and ushered inclusiveness in the financial system by introducing an alternative way to the traditional banking system. As a result of the mobile banking revolution, a lot of ‘unbanked’ people are now actively part of the mainstream financial system. Besides, the agricultural sector has also been benefitted as the farmers can now be updated about the weather, plant diseases conditions and find solutions and take measures of damages caused by disasters.
BTRC furthermore, plans to launch triple play service, mobile interactive television through launching 4G/LTE and expansion of high speed broadband — where one can stream episodes of their favorite series anytime they want and also provide other services like, HDTV, 3D TV, IP Telephony, Interactive Gaming, Cloud Computing, etc.
In addition, the introduction of mobile governance for all sorts of government services will do a great deal to reduce bureaucratic tangles associated with such services. We have also collaborated with A2i for a project where they would render various services, while BTRC provides them back-end support. Thus, BTRC is also playing a pivotal role in implementing the vision of Digital Bangladesh, and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

Are the issues pertaining to speed and bandwidth persisting?
Earlier there were issues regarding the speed; however, the problem was significantly reduced after the second submarine cable was inaugurated. The second cable has a capacity of 1500 GBPS whereas the first one only had about 300 GBPS. Similarly, the Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network (NTTN) service is yet to reach out to people like the way it did in South Korea. Thus, a lot more still needs to be done for the development of such services.

Tell us something about the key tasks of BTRC at this point of operation.
BTRC is not only working with the telephone companies. Rather our main focus now is on rendering reliable, affordable and quality telecom and internet services to all. The Commission is also attached priority in controlling the illegal Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Spectrum monitoring is moreover one of the key tasks here at BTRC. We monitor the country wide broadcasts from six of our stations at Rangpur, Bogra, Sylhet, Chittagong, Khulna and Dhaka. A few days earlier when the customers of Robi Axiata Ltd. were facing problems like call drop and frequency issues, we figured out the existence of a similar interface by Reliance Geo, after they launched their 4G network. The interface overlapping was also troubling the operation of the Indian company. Therefore, I visited India to have a meeting with the TRAI and DOT and find out the solution for such interference.
Furthermore, BTRC is also going to inaugurate the first ever satellite ‘Bangabandhu Satellite’ in Bangladesh. It is a communication satellite which will be brought forward by a company called Bangladesh Satellite Company Limited. It will indeed help to bridge digital divide, enhance business development, create new job market and flourish space technology in other country.
BTRC is also going to select a company for launching mobile number portability services (MNP) in the country soon. Commencement of MNP service would allow mobile subscribers to switch from one operator to another with just Tk. 30 as charge without changing their existing number.
The Commission has finalized a guideline on Tower sharing to use tower resources more efficiently and reduce radiation as well as health hazards. It will help mobile operator in reducing costs thus support to divert their investment for improvement of quality of services (QoS).
BTRC has also a target to organize the 4G/LTE spectrum auction by November and by the end of this year benefit of the fastest data services. Besides, it will provide spectrum neutrality facility to mobile phone operators.

The mobile phone which was first introduced as a mean voice transfer is now regarded as a tool of ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services). What would you like to comment on the changing role of this device?
The inclusion of the data services in the mobile phones is what primarily ignited the change. The existence of both 2G and 3G services has greatly minimized the geographical barriers across countries and brought tons of services at our fingertips. Furthermore, we shall soon introduce the license for 4G service which will ensure the data transfer speed to be 100 times faster than that of the existing one.
A new technology called the Internet of Things (IoT) has also been launched in other parts of the world. Availability of this technology around the world will result in a more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems by allowing objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure. IoT will also contribute to improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit in addition to reduce human intervention if run properly.

“Our main focus now is on rendering reliable, affordable and quality telecom and internet services to all.”

What sort of measures is BTRC taking against cybercrimes?
As you all know, the Government of Bangladesh, with the active support of BTRC and in collaboration with the mobile operators and relevant agencies conducted one of the most comprehensive mobile registration schemes in the world between December 2015 to June 2016. To cut down mobile based crimes, and ensure safer use of mobile technology, nearly 130 million SIM cards were registered biometrically with the National ID cards of the users. All new SIM cards have to be registered in such manner. This has increased our ability to take prior actions against the possible cybercrimes done using mobile phones, which were nearly impossible two decades ago. Thus, with the contribution from the communication sector, we have ensured a better idea of digital security in the society.
Initially, we plan on complying with a cyber-security act introduced by the government and perform a security audit at every important government institution where there is a possibility of heist or data hacking. This will ensure that all the systems are properly aligned with the cyber-security measures. Government and the social media sites can further come into negotiation using a precautionary measure against cybercrimes without violating the personal space of the social media users.
We provide the Vulnerability Scanning Service to other organizations on a regular basis. BTRC blocks links, URL of anti-state, anti-religion, anti-social contents raised by law enforcement and intelligence agencies through IIG and deep pack inspection. BTRC also helps people to block objectionable & offensive items and contents upon their request through proper investigation.

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