The 90s was the most important decade for the consumer technology industry in Bangladesh, particularly concerning computers, connectivity, and mobile. We first experienced dial-up internet in the early 90s. The Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) was established in 1997 with 17 members. Having said that, computer usage started much earlier, in the 70s. BUET opened its CSE department in 1979 in the form of a computer center that was later turned into a CSE department.
The first epochal event, however, to my understanding of the consumer technology industry in Bangladesh took place on 26 March 1996 when Grameen Telecom in collaboration with Grameenphone launched the Village phone project with an ambition to “bridge the technological gap between urban and rural Bangladesh through affordable mobile technology”. The launch of the Grameenphone and then the introduction of the village phone project was an important part of that epoch.
The mobile phone was a highly expensive technology in 1996 and was only accessible to a handful of upper-class people. Grameen Telecom unleashed a technological revolution by introducing the village phone and Phone Lady program. That was the first epoch of consumer technology in Bangladesh that enabled many other epochs to happen in the next few years.
Over the past several years, a couple more epochal events have taken place. The introduction of low-cost feature phones and then smartphones was one. While multinational companies like Samsung and Nokia led the initial growth of mobile phone technology in Bangladesh, it was local player Symphony along with a few other players that pushed the penetration to the current level by introducing low-cost handsets and establishing distribution networks in remote villages across the country.
Then came the bKash epoch that made P2P money transfer simple enabling a new wave of inclusion. If you look closely bKash is greatly indebted to the first two epochs, mobile phone, and telecom.
In the last two years, we have been seeing another wave of epochs of consumer technology in Bangladesh. eCommerce, I would argue, is going to be one. Ride-sharing and other digital services is another. And there will be a few other major epochs around mobile and digital that I hope will unfold in the next few years as our smartphone penetration and urbanization grow further.
This is part of a piece I’m working on on the state of consumer technology in Bangladesh at the end of 2017.
In this article, however, we have tried to identify a few major consumer technology trends that we suspect will shape both tech and business in Bangladesh in 2018.
Please note that 1) we have not added trends like artificial intelligence, Crypto, and a few other hot trends to the list because we think these trends will take time to affect our local market in a meaningful way 2) we have tried to focus on what home-grown companies are doing in consumer tech space which also limits our option in communication tech space particularly chat app and social media.
Ride-hailing has seen phenomenal growth in 2017 and it will take a more mature shape in 2018. We will see further developments and a little bit of consolidation in the market. I suspect bike-sharing will become a strong sub-trend within the broader ride-hailing space, particularly in campuses and communities. We already have a company, Jobike, trying out in the space and Pathao has recently started pushing bike-sharing for its courier service.
At the same time, there is a strong chance that Ride-hailing startups will try to get into a wide range of delivery businesses.
A clear trend and expect some big things to happen in the space. bKash has been pushing payment for a while now, the company will launch its mobile app soon. There are SureCash, iPay, D Money, and a handful of other players trying in the space.
I suspect banks will increasingly embrace fin-tech for distribution and making access to services more convenient for the users. A few major regulatory changes in favor of fin-tech are likely.
One of the major challenges for ecommerce is distribution beyond Dhaka. Internet penetration remains an issue and distribution is also another challenge. We have seen a couple of agent-based eCommerce initiatives in 2017 and I suspect we will see a few more mature interventions in this space in 2018.
We expect to see a few serious vertical eCommerce players in Dhaka in 2018. There is a huge opportunity there.
This is a huge possibility. Already companies like Ajkerdeal are pushing Voice as a tool for search and shopping. Given the cultural condition in Bangladesh, voice has huge potential for going big.
Finally, your devices will communicate with each other and make a lot of decisions for you.
Feeding 160 million people is a tall order. Expect to see more innovation around mechanization, high-quality seeds, and superior crop protection technology.
The demand for pure food and organic food will see further growth.
Socio-economic changes make this a likely winner in 2018. We have seen a bunch of service marketplaces in 2017 including Sheba, Handymama, Cookups, and Foodpeon on the cooking/readymade food side and I suspect we will see a strong vertical player in this space.
The disparity in access to quality education continues to grow. The reliance on digital medium in education will grow further in 2018.
TV has already disintegrated and it will be more apparent in 2018. We already have a few video-streaming players in Dhaka including Netflix. Expect to see more structured growth in the space in 2018. More digital-only TV series and Movies will be made in 2018.
Social media has effectively disrupted shopping and eCommerce in Dhaka giving way to a lot of small entrepreneurs to start and build businesses. Messaging has been seeing huge growth and we suspect messaging coupled with chatbots will influence how companies offer customer services in Dhaka.
Blockchain technology, which is the distributed ledger used for cryptocurrency, is making waves in many industries including payments, brokerage, contract,s and more and we will see a few interesting things around this happening in Dhaka.
2017 saw the Bangladesh Bank heist and a few major global security breaches. At the same time, privacy is increasingly becoming an issue in consumer tech. We will see some notable happenings around security and privacy in Dhaka.
H/T - Thank you Fahim Mashroor, CEO of Bdjobs.com, and Ajkerdeal.com for giving valuable inputs during the development of this story.
Cover Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash