Abu Saeed Khan: Champion of Connectivity


Posted on April 24, 2024  /  2 Comments

Abu Saeed Khan has taken leave of us. We celebrate a life well-lived and mourn the loss of a valued friend and colleague. The public sphere of Bangladesh and the region is diminished by his demise.

I met him in September 2000 in Dhaka, my first visit to Bangladesh, where I had been invited as a former regulator to a regional event organised to welcome and encourage the just-established Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). Learning that the World Bank had pulled its funding to signal displeasure about some last-minute chicanery to create openings for political interference in the governing statute, I did not limit myself to bland good wishes as is customary. I could see my words resonating with a majestic looking man across the room. He came up to me in the break and thanked me. That was the beginning of a friendship, a collaboration and conversations that extended over two decades and many countries in addition to Bangladesh.

In the years that I knew him, he held many positions. He worked for Ericsson out of Malaysia; he was the first Secretary General of AMTOB, the trade association of Bangladeshi mobile operators; he served as consultant to the World Bank, UN-ESCAP and others. He was LIRNEasia’s voice in Bangladesh. But there was one constant. Abu was laser-focused on making connectivity available to all at affordable prices and decent quality. He knew that the best mode of delivering this was competition. He also knew that effective regulation and consistent policy were the necessary conditions for optimal sector performance.

I have been fortunate to have had opportunities to work from within government and from outside to advance these common objectives. Abu Saeed Khan had to work from outside. But that did not in any way diminish his contribution. I will use only one example: the rationalisation of 1800 MHz frequencies with the consent of all the operators that occurred during his leadership at AMTOB. The BTRC Chairman was quoted as saying that “after the rearrangement, a total of 15.6 Mhz frequency worth more than Tk 2,000 crore will be saved, which will be sold during 3G auction.” I used this case in my teaching and talks to show that good regulatory practices can also be initiated by those outside government.

Coming from a media background, Abu Saeed Khan was always available to journalists with evidence-based analyses of current issues in his areas of expertise. He lived through the efflorescence of the telecom sector and greatly contributed to the understanding of the key issues. He was always learning and always sharing his knowledge. He sat through the entirety of a LIRNEasia course on regulation in Singapore. His suggestion that we use microwave attenuation by rainfall in our disaster risk reduction work led to a short-listed research proposal.

Abu Saeed Khan was “present at creation” of LIRNEasia in 2004. Over the past 20 years he was a stalwart colleague. Consistent with LIRNEasia’s mission, he conceptualised LION [Longest International Open-Access Network]. In his words, Asia was behaving like it was not a continent but a collection of coastlines, with all the big pipes being undersea and none running overland. From the time he convinced me at the Islamabad Serena Hotel after much debate, we worked together to promote the concept. We won the cooperation of UN ESCAP, with the division responsible for ICT essentially reorienting its entire work plan around the concept of an Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS). Perhaps in honour of the Bangladeshi origins of the concept, one of the key meetings of APIS was held in Dhaka. We met resistance at the ITU’s Bangkok office and within ESCAP with the transportation people. But we had impact. Every time I read about hybrid cables that snake their way through land and ocean, I think of Abu’s LION concept that catalysed new thinking on long-haul networks that raised the salience of redundancy and open access.

He was great son of Bangladesh, proud of the language that defined its identity and wanting more for its people. His endeavours were not limited to one country. His work was not complete. But he did much in the time that he was given. He was kind and caring. He never lost hope. We are thankful we were part of his journey.

Rohan Samarajiva

Founding Chair, LIRNEasia

April 22, 2024

This eulogy originally appeared on The Daily Star in Bangladesh

 


In various interviews, speeches and international conferences representing LIRNEasia, Abu Saeed Khan addressed critical issues surrounding technology and telecommunications. During the Ministerial Programme 2014, he discussed the societal benefits of Big Data and the importance of a universal definition of privacy. At the 2013 World Technology Policy Forum and World Summit on the Information Society meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, he offered insights into the future of the Internet and the challenges it faces, including the battle for control and what actions should be taken.

Explore his recent writings, covering a diverse range of topics including telecommunications policy, technology, economics, and society.

On exporting internet to India

The fallacious policy on exporting internet to India

a2i Act: Gateway to kleptocracy and highway to oligarchy

Unlocking Asian Borders for New Revenue Through Connectivity

Flawed regulation sends wrong signals to private submarine cables in Bangladesh

Recovering funds should be top priority

3G in Bangladesh: Points to ponder

This is totally a technical issue, not a legal matter

More about his work at LIRNEasia can be found at: https://lirneasia.net/people/abu-saeed-khan/


Abu’s remarkable contributions to digital connectivity and his magnetic personality have left a mark on all who had the privilege of knowing him. Below, we share the touching messages LIRNEasia has received from individuals and organisations around the globe with whom Abu crossed paths, demonstrating the impact of his vision and passion.

“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Abu. He was not just a colleague but, also a dear friend, and his loss is deeply felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him. Abu and I had the opportunity to work closely together on several projects aimed at promoting digital connectivity for LLDCs. His passion for the cause was inspiring, and his dedication was unwavering. One of the memorable moments we shared was during a joint mission to Thimphu for a capacity-building workshop in 2017. Abu’s insights, expertise, and warm personality enriched the sessions for participants. His contributions to our work were invaluable, especially the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative, and his presence will be sorely missed. Please accept my heartfelt condolences, and know that my thoughts are with you, his family, and everyone at  LIRNEasia during this difficult time.”  – Siope Vakataki Ofa – 

“I join my colleagues in extending deepest condolences to Abu Saeed Khan’s family and the LIRNEasia family on his demise. I have a vivid memory of his magnetic personality and persuasive talents, but most of all I appreciated his expertise combined with creative thinking – he was the mastermind of LION and worked tirelessly on co-deployment as a cost effective way of bringing affordable, reliable and high speed digital connectivity to all. He was a big thinker who realised early on that national digital solutions need to draw from,  and contribute to,  a regional and global architecture of connectivity. Some of his ideas may have been before their time. I hope they live on, and we will continue to do our part at ESCAP.” – Tiziana Bonapace – 

“Thanks for sharing the sad news. I also heard from Tenzin and a colleague from Dhaka. I met him about 10 years back and we met last year in Dhaka and traveled together outside Dhaka to Jeshore and other parts of Bangladesh. I wish I could spend more time with him and didn’t realise that he will leave us so soon. Praying peace for the departed soul.” – Rajendra Singh – 

“Thank you, Rohan. A very eloquent eulogy. He was also honest to a degree that built great trust, even if it also meant occasional disagreement.” – Kyle Gardner – 

“What a great tribute to Abu who did so much for Bangladesh’s connectivity and beyond. May his soul rest in peace.”

2 Comments


  1. Thank you for writing and celebrating Abu’s contribution and life, Rohan! I met Abu at the LirneAsia regulatory meeting you were referring to in 2005. As a young policy researcher at that point in time, I was inspired by his passion and boldness in advocating and ensuring people at the bottom of the pyramid across our countries in developing Asia can share the benefits of connectivity and 2G phones , coupling his explanations with humor and unforgettable anecdotes. When he moved on to Ericsson and other roles, he remained a caring mentor and friend.

    Abu, you are going to be sorely missed! It was am honor to be touched and inspired by your life and may your soul rest in peace!

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