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The Mobile And Internet Penetration Growth Continues, Internet’s Deployment Phase

The Brief and Numbers:

  • Mobile phone: Bangladesh is a mobile-first country. Bangladesh is the ninth largest mobile markets in terms of the number of subscribers in the world. Total unique mobile phone subscriber in the country stands at 85 million, which means 51% penetration (GSMA, 2017). According to BTRC, total mobile subscribers stands at 156 million at the beginning of 2019.
  • Internet penetration: According to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the number of internet users shot up from 30.48 million in 2013 to 90.05 million in 2018.
  • Mobile internet penetration: As of 2018, there are 80.47 million mobile phone internet users in Bangladesh (BRTC). Unique mobile internet subscribers were at 35 million in 2017, according to GSMA.
  • Broadband penetration: As of 2018, there are 570,000 broadband internet (ISP + PSTN) users, and 83,000 are WiMax users (BRTC, 2018).


Internet’s Deployment Phase: Broadly speaking, you can divide internet age into two phases: penetration and deployment. Penetration is about bringing people on the internet. Deployment is about developing and offering services and products and solutions to the people who are on the internet - broadly use cases.

Mobile Subscribers and Internet subscribers In Bangladesh (In Millions)
Mobile and Internet subscribers In Bangladesh (In Millions)

The chart above shows that we are doing pretty well on the side of penetration. Although we have a long way to go to bring everyone in Bangladesh on the internet, the growth has been consistent.

According to a GSMA report, 60% the population will have access to the internet by 2025 If you look into the two phases of the internet age – 1) penetration or bringing people on the internet 2) deployment - building services and solutions for these users – we are on both sides of the spectrum. Bangladesh already has a user base who needs services and solutions on the internet. Building for these users offers an incredible opportunity for the entrepreneurs.

Building for the existing internet users is no small opportunity. Although we are not yet there in terms of penetration and have a long way to go before we bring all the people on to the internet, building services and products for the existing internet users have already begun. The opportunity is endless there both in terms of scope and what has been done so far. The unprecedented growth in Youtube usage in Bangladesh is a testament to that.

Mobile, Internet, services and an unprecedented opportunity for growth: This unprecedented growth of mobile and internet penetration has implications not only for tech but also for many other industries. As we see in the graph above, internet penetration is slowly catching up with mobile penetration. But compared to that services on the internet is not there yet. This is where the next big growth opportunity lies - the usage of internet. For example, ecommerce or education or information and so on.

We have seen a handful of successful products that have been built on top of the mobile phone and internet in Bangladesh creating new use cases for mobile and internet such as bkash, Pathao, Chaldal, Bdjobs, and a few others but there are many more opportunities to explore. The use phase of the internet is just getting started.

Mobile as a platform: From Mobile Is Eating Bangladesh:

“Over the past years, Bangladesh has experienced unprecedented growth in mobile phone penetration. This has implications not only for tech but also for many other industries. People spend a usually high amount of time with their handheld devices. Moreover, mobile allows users to do things on the go. As a result, mobile is changing how we communicate, consume, shop and transact. In the coming years, it will change many other aspects of our daily life.”

Mobile and internet both have consequential strategic implications for every business regardless of the industry you operate. For example, the internet has significantly brought down the cost of distribution and entering a market. It has two implications: 1) businesses can now directly sell to customers 2) every business is now open to infinite competition

From Pathao Tong, Ride-Hailing’s New Market Reality, And Pathao’s Path To One App For All Your Needs

Mobile offers an incredible opportunity to today’s internet companies. Pathao is one of the few local players to see it, and it wants to take it. Mobile allows centralization and aggregation. It is naturally tempting when you see such a big opportunity that you have all the means as well as the reasons to pursue. The lure is even stronger when you look at the precedence of such things happening in the markets like China or Indonesia or Singapore.

A growing number of people are coming online but the money is not. eCommerce is nothing compared to retail. Online education is minuscule compared to private education in Bangladesh. The list is endless. But this reality is about to change as more use cases for internet come into play. The next big opportunities lie in creating these layers and use cases.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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