Bangladesh has seen tremendous growth in the ICT sector since being boosted by the government’s Digital Bangladesh vision. We have one of the highest ICT growth rates in Asia, declared Subir Kishore Choudhury, ICT Division Secretary, whilst speaking to ZTE Technologies at the beginning of this year about the achievements made in the ICT sector and the challenges which lie ahead. He called for all international companies who want to develop their business in Bangladesh to step forward. Similarly he emphasized the success of the cooperation with ZTE in ICT development in Bangladesh.
How would you describe the ICT Division’s role facing today’s rapidly changing and expanding ICT industry?
Facing the rapid changes and expansion in the ICT industry, the ICT Division has been working relentlessly. It works mainly on policy formulation, establishing infrastructure, connectivity, providing export incentives, innovation funds, knowledge sharing through various expos and human resource development according to the needs of the industry. We are establishing 28 High-Tech Parks and training people to support them according to industry needs. We have formulated some friendly policies for the industry. Our legal system is totally aimed at facilitating the expansion of the ICT industry in the country. The ICT Division has 23 ongoing projects, which helps the country achieve overall socio-economic development by establishing universal access to ICT for all through research, development, and successful utilization and management of ICT.
How would you characterize Bangladesh’s ICT development? Where do you position Bangladesh in terms of ICT growth in Asia?
The Bangladesh government has officially recognized the potential of the ICT industry and its impact on the economy. In collaboration with industry associations and international trade support institutions, the government has taken both short- and long-term measures (Vision 2021) to support and enhance development of the domestic sector and increase the export of ICT products and services. The ICT industry has consistently grown by 20–30% annually in recent years. Over 800 registered ICT companies generated total revenues of approximately $500 million. More than 75 percent of companies are involved in customized application development and maintenance, 50 percent are dedicated to IT enabled services, and 45 percent offer E-commerce/Web services. 60 percent of companies solely focus on the domestic market. The International Trade Center estimates that approximately 200 companies export their products and services to international markets. In addition to the registered workforce, thousands of independent freelancers offer their services on online marketplaces and 16,000 students graduate annually from ICT courses at more than 100 public and private universities. All these statistics are proof of our development in the ICT sector.
Bangladesh has been making significant growth since 2008 in the ICT sector. Mobile phone users have increased in number to over 140 million and internet subscribers have increased to over 80 million. This is one of the highest ICT growth rates in Asia.
What are the most important elements of Digital Bangladesh?
The most important elements of Digital Bangladesh are enhanced e-governance, digital connectivity, HRD for ICT and IT industry promotion. We need to set up complete connectivity throughout the country. For this reason, we are carrying out the big projects such as Info-Sarker I, II, III projects. We need a higher class data center for data preservation and processing. For that, we are establishing an IV Tier National Data Center. To encourage all related industries in developing ICT, we are setting up High-Tech Parks all over the country. When modernizing urban and rural life, using ICT technology is also very important. We are planning to set up a smart city in Bangladesh using ICT technology. You will be seeing the changes everywhere.
What are the Ministry highlights in 2017?
In 2017, the Uptime Institute awarded the Tier Certification of Design Documents (for fulfilling Tier IV Fault Tolerant Criteria) for the IV Tier National Data Center which is being established in Kaliakoir, Gazipur. We have been awarded the ‘Global Mobile Government Award’ for the role in creating mobile-based application development and mass awareness during the Mobile Government World Summit 2017 held in Brighton, UK from May 7th to 9th. We have brought 2600 Unions under national connectivity. Sheikh Hasina Software Technology Park (STP) has already come to operation. The establishment of High-Tech Parks is in full swing.
The ICT industry is growing fast in Bangladesh. What are some of the innovative practices that have been proven to be successful?
To be honest, it is all due to the right policy set by Hon’able Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Hon’able ICT Advisor Sajeeb Wazed. The government has taken the right way for promoting the economy in Bangladesh. Industry-friendly policies, incentives on ICT product and service exports, innovation funds, knowledge sharing through expos are some of the innovative practices that have proven to be successful.
What have been the achievements in e-governance so far? And how would you characterize the IV Tier National Data Center Project?
Currently around 50 percent of government services are being delivered online, such as tax filing, e-procurement, passport, birth registration, social services, e-payment and admissions.
The data center is the core and basis for Digital Bangladesh, without which we cannot effectively store, use and process the data. Under the IV Tier National Data Center Project, we can develop even more, such as e-education, e-tourism, e-health and smart city management.
What work has been done in the direction of developing the smart city concept? What could give this a further push?
When talking about smart city, taking as an example when you land in Bangladesh, you have to first buy a SIM card. By means of the mobile network, we will push to you basic knowledge about Dhaka and Bangladesh, about interesting places, about the delicious food etc. Following this, you might need to call a taxi/car using your mobile. On the way from the airport to the hotel, you can take a look at the real time traffic situation on the Global Positioning System (GPS) on your mobile. This means that we need to collect data from every corner of the city in order to inform people and even the city management for the better running of city components. Different departments are participating in discussions to find the most efficient way for establishing a smart city in order to improve the quality of government services and citizen welfare. Our ICT Division will take the leading role in developing smart city in Bangladesh.
The majority of the population lives in the rural areas. What plans are being made for increasing the use of ICT in rural areas?
The ICT Division has initiated the leveraging ICT project for improving people’s ICT ability. In the future, they can use ICT technology for getting better jobs and improving their work skills. Besides this, we set up fiber connectivity throughout the country; this shortens the distance between each and every citizen. We have established digital labs in the schools in rural areas and connected rural areas with urban areas. There are more than 4000 Union Digital Centers (UDCs) to serve the rural areas digitally.
What are the biggest challenges that Bangladesh faces in ICT applications?
Our challenge is mainly getting sufficient investment in the ICT sector. Another challenge in the sector is R&D, collaboration between industry and academia. We have trainable human resources here. I would like to take this opportunity to call out to all international companies or those companies who want to develop their business in Bangladesh.
What is the strategy for advanced cyber security?
Cyber security is very essential for all over the world. The government of Bangladesh pays much attention to this. Bangladesh has devised its own cyber security strategies. As per cyber security policy and strategic guidelines, the ICT Division and its agency have established the Cyber Security Training Lab, Cyber Forensic Lab and CERT. All other agencies, such as BTRC, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Bank are also going to establish CERTs. We have our own research and development on cyber security software and we are also collaborating with developed countries on this subject.
What projects are you going to explore in the future?
We have plans to take projects on Connected Bangladesh, Electronic Land Registration, Establishment of CCA CIRT, Modernization of Rural and Urban Lives through ICT, Integrated e-Government, Establishment of E-mail & Digital Literacy Centre, Skill Development of IT Engineers Targeting the Japanese Market and several other special issues.
How is ZTE contributing to the growth of ICT in Bangladesh? How can you describe the cooperation with ZTE?
As far as I know, ZTE has been working in Bangladesh for more than 10 years. ZTE has been developing our IV Tier National Data Center. They are also implementing ICT and power related projects in other organizations as well. ZTE has clearly contributed a lot to ICT growth in Bangladesh. The ICT Division is working well with ZTE and we will work even better in the future for more ICT developments in Bangladesh.
What does the future hold for Bangladesh’s ICT sector?
Bangladesh has been trying to be a smart nation using ICT in all government areas as well as in the private sector. Since 2008 we have been moving forward to achieve our goals under the leadership of Her Excellency Hon’able Prime Minister Sheik Hasina and Hon’able ICT Advisor Sajeeb Wazed.
Bangladesh, ICT industry, e-governance, ICT