The coming 26 March will mark the 25 years of mobile operator Grameenphone in Bangladesh. On the eve of the silver jubilee, Jorgen C Arentz Rostrup, chairman of Grameenphone’s governing body and head of Asia at Telenor, the mother company of Grameenphone, said Grammenphone is one of the best companies of Telenor. Bangladesh and Grameenphone is something special to Telenor.
He made these remarks while speaking to three newspersons at their office on 14 March. Yasir Azman, chief executive officer (CEO) of Grameenphone was also with him at the time.
Grameenphone started its operation in the country on 26 March 1997. It is atop the four mobile operators in the country in terms of number of users, revenue income and profit. Grameenphone has more than 83 million subscribers at present.
Telenor, a state owned company of Norway, holds ownership 55.8 per cent of Grameenphone’s share. The Grameen Telecom of Bangladesh owns the remaining 34.2 per cent of the share. Apart from that, the Grameenphone employees and commoners also have the share of the company.
Grameenphone chairman Jorgen C Arentz Rostrup said, “The investment in Grameenphone was Telenor’s first in Asia. It was a completely different experience for us. Grameenphone has a vast influence on Telenor. Therefore, we call Telenor a Nordic-Asian company.”
Telenor runs businesses in the Nordic countries – Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden – and in nine Asian countries. The total number of its subscribers is 188 million, of which 170 million are in Asia. Telenor has business in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan as well as Bangladesh. However, almost half of the total subscribers of Telenor in Asia are from Bangladesh. Notably, the company has declared to close its operation in Myanmar.
Jorgen said, “Although Grameenphone is not number one among the Telenor companies in terms of profit rate, it is among the bests. It is one of the leading companies of Telenor. On the other hand, Grameenphone holds the highest position in terms of paying taxes. Grameenphone has been the highest tax payer in Bangladesh for a long time.”
Asked about the last 25 years of interaction with the government and regulatory bodies, Jorgen said, "The regulatory bodies here are very sincere in their work. Sometimes it is necessary to discuss various issues with them. Not that we agree on everything. But we have always had the opportunity to talk or discuss.”
"Whenever we wanted, we had the opportunity to talk to the telecom minister. The chairman of the regulatory body also gave time. We must work together to advance the government's goal of building a digital Bangladesh."
Replying to a question regarding layoffs, Jorgen said, “Technologies are changing rapidly. There are many employees who are hardworking and honest. However, their skills are no longer relevant in the telecommunications sector. Their skill can be developed through training. And for those who are not interested in acquiring new technology, large sums of compensation are offered through negotiations before layoffs. They can use their skills elsewhere. Grameenphone is very conscientious about the betterment of its workforce.”
The Grameenphone chairman further said, “Almost half of the subscribers of Grameenphone are internet users. We have to provide them with newer offers. On the other hand, we also have to take care of providing better services for those who are not internet users. The revenue from the voice calls is not growing. But the use of the internet is increasing exponentially. However, the revenue from internet browsing is not increasing as compared to the number of users. It is such a paradoxical situation!”
The last question to the Grameenphone chairman was how many more years they wanted to remain as investors in Bangladesh given that the company would complete 25 years of its operation in the country on 26 March.
“That’s a fascinating question,” Jorgen said in reply, adding, “I might come out with a number and show some logic behind that. But I will not do that. As long as Telenor feels that they are being welcomed as investors in Bangladesh, it will be in Bangladesh.”
“The point I want to make is that we are very fond of Grameenphone. That is probably not the case for the other Telenor companies,” he concluded.