However, not all phones can avail of the service 

Yangyel Lhaden

By December, residents in core areas of Thimphu and Paro could access 5G cellular network that is expected to be 10 times faster than a 4G network.  

Bhutan would be only the second country in the SAARC region, after the Maldives, to introduce 5G. 

Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL) officials said that 5G makes it possible to download high-definition videos within a few minutes. “Users can watch an 8K (8,000 pixels) resolution video, which is not possible with 4G LTE,” an official said.  

However, not all mobile phones can access the network. 

During the trial, BTL officials found only three models of Vivo phones, the V21, X60 Pro plus, and X60 Pro, support the spectrum of BTL’s 5G. 

Bhutan Telecom is a dealer of Vivo phones in Bhutan. However, BTL’s 5G Project Manager Jichen Thinley said that they have been testing all smartphones. 

There are a few other brands of smartphones that support 5G, such as the iPhone 12 series, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold3 5G, Galaxy s21 Ultra, and Sony’s Xperia 5G III. 

Jichen Thinley said that although there were smartphones in the market that supported 5G technology, not all of those phones would be compatible with the BTL’s 5G network unless the phone companies manufactured chips or patches that support the BTL 5G spectrum. 

He said that it was a natural procedure for operators to request companies to allow their phones to be compatible with the frequency and spectrum of the operator’s 5G network. However, he said, a small country like Bhutan with a small subscriber base would not generate enough interest for the manufacturer to release a chip. 

“Big operators tie-up with companies and manufacture phones supporting their 5G network spectrum,” Jichen Thinley said. 

However, he said, BTL was in an advanced stage of discussion with Google, the owner of Android phones, and Apple to release a patch to support BTL’s 5G in their handsets. “If they do not release the patch, we have to wait for a generic release from the phone companies, which means the manufacturers have to allow their phones to be compatible with 5G networks worldwide.”

BTL’s marketing team is also studying the data charges for 5G. Jichen Thinley said that they were aiming to keep 5G data charges the same as 4G. Since 5G consumes more data, higher data packages will be released later on. 

While the data charges are expected to be on par with 4G, data consumption will be high, since 5G performs tasks 10 times faster. “If people want faster service, the charges will also be higher,” Jichen Thinley said.

He said that customers can choose between 4G and 5G.

Thimphu will have 29 stations for 5G, out of which BTL has installed 12. Paro and Phuentsholing will have three stations. 

The project manager said that the network towers have a short range. The 5G station at the BTL head office has a coverage up to the office of the Department of Immigration, which is little more than 500 metres. 

He said that more towers with 5G would be installed in the future to cover the whole country. “The first phase will help BTL understand the technology better and explore the development of 5G applications relevant to Bhutan.” 

The project manager said that introducing 5G does not mean BTL has dropped 4G. “BTL is committed to complete 4G networks across the country within three years.”

Edited by Tshering Palden