Visionary leaders always think ahead of their time. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the greatest Bengali of all times, had that visionary quality indeed. He dreamt of an independent Bangladesh in the middle of 1947, twenty-four years before the birth of Bangladesh. While in power in 1972 as Prime Minister of Bangladesh Bangabandhutook many decisions from the visionary thinking. Expansion of information and communication technology to utilisepotentials of digital revolution, exploration of sea resources, purchase of five gas fields (now supplying one third of total gas supply) from British shell corporation, set up of Bangladesh Science and Industry Research Council (BSIRC), reform of education system to turn Bangladesh into a developed country are some of the steps that have far-reaching impact on Bangladesh’s economy.At the earnest initiative of Bangabandhu, Bangladesh got membership of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on 5 September 1973. Heestablished Bentbunia Satellite Earth Station on 14 June 1975 to pave the way for launching Bangladesh’s own satellite in the space.With the assassination of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975, Bangladesh was ruled by ant-liberation reactionary forces which took the country backward instead of moving forward. These forces discarded almost all the programmes undertaken by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
It is Sheikh Hasina who inherited the visionary thinking from her father. After coming to power in 1996 she announced the Vision 2021 and 2041 and Delta Plan 2100. All these visions are now being implemented.
Digital Bangladesh was enshrined in the Vision 2021 with an objective to cope up with the emerging technology and use that for turning Bangladesh into middle income country by 2021. It is that vision that has catapulted Bangladesh into a Space Nation in just nine months of its journey towards building Digital Bangladesh. The launching of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 has opened new opportunities for space research for the learners and developing the space economy in the country.
Before Bangladesh, only 56 out of 198 countries of the world have joined the elite club of space nations. When the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 roared into the space, Bangladesh became its 57th member having satellite of its own and the 34th country building nuclear power plant. “We have to uphold the dignity of the country and take it forward,” said Sheikh Hasina. She expressed her firm conviction that Bangabandhu Satellite would play a pivotal role in overall development of the country, opening up new vistas for learners of a new generation.
Some opposition political leaders, immediately after launch of the satellite, questioned the need for such an ambitious project spending $248 million from the public exchequer. But a deeper analysis of the trend of space economy worldwide in this age of digital revolution will expose how such a questioning is seriously flawed. There is a saying in Britain's space industry that in satellite communication every pound of public funding spent generates 47 pounds of revenue. The direct contribution of space and satellite Industry to the UK’s economy is $5.1 billion pound.
Currently, the contribution of global space economy is pegged at $350billion which will reach to $1.1 trillion in 2040. According to Morgan Stanley, a US based financial services organization, the contribution of global space economy will be at $3trillion by 2050.
Space is considered a hi-tech and essential sector in Europe at a time of digital revolution. Should Bangladesh sit idle and lag behind after taking part in the digital revolution in January 2009?
Persons familiar with the digital revolution that started in the middle of the 20th century and the introduction of emerging technologies would agree that Sheikh Hasina, on the advice of architect of Digital Bangladesh SajeebWazed Joy, has taken a landmark and pragmatic decision to implement a satellite project in the name of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who dreamt of setting up satellite to carry forward the Information and Communication Technology sector. His dream took a major stride towards becoming a reality when the Betbunia Satellite Center was set up at Rangamati on 14 June 1975. Since then, satellite is being used to provide many important services including international incoming and outgoing phone calls, telephonic data communication, fax and telex communication and weather forecast.
After four decades, the launching of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 on 11 May 2018 has set the stage for establishing high-speed communication infrastructure, conducting space research and moving towards building the space economy.
Experts opine that the satellite will serve four main objectives: first, it will enhance national prestige in the international arena; secondly, it will encourage the learners to conduct space research; thirdly, it will establish the country’s own high-speed and reliable communication infrastructure to expand e-health, e-health and fourthly, it will help cope with natural disaster that a country like Bangladesh is prone to. Most importantly, the launching of the satellite has also created opportunities for Bangladesh’s engineers and scientists to build the country’s own satellite.
The Bangabandhu Satellite-1 is a geostationary satellite which will provide three types of important services—broadcasting, telecommunications and data communications. Television and radio stations use the broadcasting services delivered directly to their audiences and viewers. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) use satellite for delivering internet, whereas both cell phone and land phone operators can use telecommunication services to connect to, and with, their subscribers.
Currently, Bangladeshi TV channels are totally dependent on satellites owned by foreign nations for their broadcasting services. Bangabandhu-1 is going to reduce this dependency and thus help save valuable foreign currencies outgo. The satellite is expected to save Tk 14 million a year that is currently spent on renting foreign satellites.
Apart from meeting the domestic demand, it will give us the opportunity to provide services to foreign TV channels and thereby earn foreign currencies. As per projection of demands existing today, the government is planning to dedicate half of the 40 transponders of Bangabandhu satellite for local TV channels and the remaining half will be deployed to serve the channels from other countries. Optical fiber is the most preferred option for data services now-a-days.
However, it is hard to reach areas such as islands and hill tracts and this is where a satellite can be an alternative option for data services. Besides, communication satellite can offer effective redundancy option for both data and telecommunication services during the period of emergency and natural disaster when land-based communication services are down.
Through this project, Bangladeshi engineers will also benefit from the knowledge being transferred to them over the entire process. Bangladesh can look forward to the day when its scientists and engineers would be able to build our own satellites at home.
Satellites meet the needs of multiple users. They provide information and services to support global communications, the economy, security and defence, safety and emergency management, the environment and health. As technology advances, the potential of satellite will undoubtedly continue to grow. New markets will emerge along with newer opportunities to push the boundaries of what space technology currently offers.
Bangabandhu Satellite-1 has started its maiden transmission on 4 September 2018 through broadcasting of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship using BS-1 through Bangladesh Television (BTV). Now the Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited (BCSCL) has to develop a business model to make BS-1 a profitable concern.
Bangabandhu Satellite-1represents a remarkable milestone in Bangladesh’s space odyssey by opening up a new digital chapter in the history of the country. The government must now come up with a plan to use satellite as a tool for developing the much-needed space economy.
Ajit Kumar Sarkar is a senior journalist and City Editor of BSS.