BANGLADESH TELECOM SECTOR HOLDS PROMISE FOR US FIRMS

BANGLADESH TELECOM SECTOR HOLDS PROMISE FOR US FIRMS

Expansion of the telecommunications network in Bangladesh provides substantial opportunities to United States companies for the supply of equipment, U.S. officials believe.

Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, has only 2.5 telephone lines for every 1,000 people. That contrasts with 10 for every 1,000 in neighboring India, itself hardly a world beater.The Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board has announced an ambitious goal of installing 800,000 lines using digital switches by 2000. In addition, the board intends to spend $150 million to upgrade its transmission network.

The country has 290,000 lines; the board estimates demand is more than 500,000. As much as 75 percent of the lines use outdated analog switches, although European and Japanese companies like Alcatel and NEC Corp. are installing digital gear.

Telecom-related imports from the United States in 1994 amounted to $5.6 million out of a total $32 million. The telecommunications equipment industry is expected to grow 25 percent a year in the next three years.

A recent report by the commercial section of the U.S. Embassy in Dacca shows U.S. telecom sales went mostly to private companies running rural networks, and at the upper end in areas like cellular telephony, data communications and pagers.

"The strong growth shown by private firms bodes well for future U.S. sales," the report said.

Plans by Bangladesh Television to open a second channel provide opportunities for sales of broadcasting and transmission equipment.

U.S. companies have in the past supplied equipment to Hong Kong-based Hutchison Communications and Bangladesh Telecom, which operate cellular and radio trunk services in Dacca. Equipment also has been sold to Bangladesh Rural Telecom Authority & Integrated Services Ltd.

U.S. companies have a 75 percent share of sales to Bangladesh military and law-enforcement agencies, which show a strong preference for U.S.-made equipment.

The telecom board is expected to invite bids by December for additional cellular services in the capital and the primary port of Chittagong.