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Bangladesh: High Hopes for Bangla Supported Mobiles

In Bangladesh, the number of mobile phone users stands at 93.8 million and most subscribers only use their handsets to call others – the use of SMS is very low. According to Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) statistics, around 30 million SMS were sent per month in 2011. That means roughly one in every three handsets sent one SMS per month.

The literacy rate in Bangladesh is not low, so it is somewhat surprising that SMS usage is so low. However, it is obvious that many Bangladeshis can only read and write in Bangla, whereas the handsets imported into the country rarely have Bangla scripts enabled. Many cannot send SMS because they do not know English.

According to Faisal Alim, the general secretary of the Mobile Handset Importers Association of Bangladesh, the country imports six million handsets per year and most of them do not have a Bangla keypad.

This year the Bangladesh government has made it compulsory to incorporate Bangla keypads into mobile phones. BTRC issued a notice that all (basic) handsets imported after February 2012, have to have Bangla keypads. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated Bangla SMS for mobile phones on 21 February, 2012, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day.

80% of Bangladeshi farmers use mobile phones to gather information on markets and contact buyers. Image by Bayazid Akter, copyright Demotix (01/06/12).

80% of Bangladeshi farmers use mobile phones to gather information on markets and contact buyers. Image by Bayazid Akter, copyright Demotix (01/06/12).

Mohammad Moazzem Hossain at Techzoom24.com writes [bn] about Bangla support for mobile phones:

Have seen in news that every imported handset should have a Bangla keypad according to BTRC. This rule applies from all the imports since February this year. This will enable people to use their handsets with more ease and the use of Bangla with mobile phones will proliferate. Many thanks to BTRC for implementing this decision.

Right now only basic mobile handsets are required to have Bangla keypads. Soon touchscreen and smartphone versions will be brought under this rule.

The use of mobile phones is increasing in Bangladesh and is not confined simply to calls. Since 2008, consumers have been able to pay their utility bills (gas, electricity, telephone) via mobile. Bangladesh Railway provides timetables for trains, ticket prices and availability via mobiles. Secondary and higher secondary school certificate results are also available via mobile phones. Students can even apply to universities online and via mobile.

Disaster early warning information is being broadcast in Sirajganj and Cox'sbazar via SMS. The doctors at Upazilla health complex can be accessed via mobile for 24 hours for emergency service. Mobile based health services can be accessed at market prices. Sugarcane farmers can receive their purchase order “purjee” from sugar mills via SMS, saving time and harassment.

People can also access banking services via mobile: a mobile financial service called BKash has recently started and now people can make transactions via mobile all over the country.

Sugarcane farmers can receive their purchase order 'purjee' quickly via SMS saving time and harassment. Image courtesy Digital Bangladesh Blog.

Sugarcane farmers can receive their purchase order ‘purjee’ quickly via SMS saving time and harassment. Image courtesy Digital Bangladesh Blog.

In the recently published World Bank research report ‘Information and Communication For Development 2012: Maximize mobile‘ it was revealed that 80% of Bangladeshi farmers are using mobile phones to gather information on market prices and demand, which they can use to determine at which price to sell by communicating with different wholesalers or retailers. Around 50% of farmers manage to sell their goods directly communicating via mobile phone.

According to BTRC, 98% of Bangladeshis are under the umbrella of mobile networks. To deliver the success of development to the end users, Bangla language support for mobile is essential.

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