Saturday, January 15, 2011

Satellite Launch To Cost Tk 30 Billion

It has now become a matter of prestige. When all the neighbouring countries are placing or have already placed their own satellites into orbit, Bangl-adesh feels it needs to have its own satellite up in the sky as well. But, to maintain its prestige, Bangladesh would need to fork out at least Tk. 3,000 crore (USD 428 million), according to a source at Bangladesh Telecommu­nication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

The lifespan of a satellite is more or less 15 years. So, to give it business viability, Bangladesh needs to earn Tk. 200 crore per annum. Moreover, operational and maintenance cost would be added additionally.
However, BTRC is still in the dark on who would look after the implementation and overall operations of the satellite.

According to BTRC sources, an initial proposal has been sent to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT), for its nod, which needs to be approved by the Cabinet as well. BTRC, which wants to see the project in the sixth five-year plan, also requested the ministry to send the proposal to the “Digital Bangladesh Task Force”, headed by the Prime Minister herself, the source added.

But before it is placed in the budget proposal, the consultancy expenditure needs to be approved by the finance ministry. BTRC sources said it has asked for Tk. 60 crore as consultant’s fee for three years. This money has to be approved first before any other steps are taken. That proposal has also been sent to the MoPT.

According to BTRC sources, it plans to launch the satellite by 2013. But, experts claimed that at least eight to 10 years would be needed to install a satellite.

Some sources in BTRC claimed that as the tenure of the Awami League-led government would be over 2013, the time-line of the satellite project has been predetermined to be in the same year.

A proposal had been given during the last tenure of the Awami League government, to place a satellite, by the then Information and Communication Technology minister. But the government did not agree to the proposal at that time. In April 2008, Vietnam launched its own communication satellite, after 13-year-long programme, to serve the country’s telecommunication and broadcast system. Total investment for the production and launch of the satellite, Vinasat-1, and the construction of related facilities, like two ground stations, was nearly USD 300 million, according to the website of the Space Mart.

On the other hand, India, well-experienced in launching satellites, lost two satellites last year, due to launch vehicle failure. An official of the BTRC told The Independent that the government should be cautious after the failure of Indian missions, because something would mean a huge loss for the exchequer.

BTRC chairman Maj Gen (retd) Zia Ahmed is optimistic of seeing the first satellite in the sky, saying, “The satellite makes business sense. Otherwise, why we are spending resources on it? It'll help our telecom sector.” “Domestic satellite television channels are renting satellite facilities from other countries,” he added, “The government can earn hard cash by renting out the satellite.”

However, the chairman pointed out, the International Telecommunication Union has given Bangladesh a slot at 105 degree east in the orbit.

According to experts, a GSO (geosynchronous orbital) satellite could be used to develop telecommunication bandwidth, but that cannot be compared to capacities offered by submarine cables. Bangladesh is already connected to a submarine cable, however, it can use only a third of the capacity. Moreover, the submarine cable company is also going to be connected with another submarine cable, as an alternative. The source further mentioned, mobile operators have already rolled out services covering about 98 per cent of the country. Just a few places remain outside the telecommunication network, which, too, can be developed within a few years.

BTRC sources said that the commission is now engaged in appointing an international consultancy firm for the entire process of launching the Bangladesh communication and broadcasting satellite, named “Bangabandhu-1”. About 30 firms from various countries, such as, USA, Japan, Russia, Canada and Indonesia, have submitted expressions of interest (EOI) in this regard. Seven of them have been selected for RFP. The evaluation of financial and technical offer will be judged according to the public procurement Act, by an evaluation committee. Finally one firm would be mandated as the consultant.

“We're doing the initial part of the project. The government will decide about how the satellite will run, as well as, whether it will be run by state-owned Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited or any other company, with government participation,
or not,” Rejaul Qader, director-general of BTRC told The Independent.

However, another officer of the BTRC, opposing the initial work done by the commission, said that the BTRC should not be doing this, as it is a regulator, not an execution agency.