Sherab Lhamo

To enhance network efficiency, Bhutan Telecom has been gradually phasing out 3G networks since last year, to enhance newer technologies like 4G and 5G that offer significant improvements in coverage, capacity, and overall network performance compared to 3G.

Bhutan Telecom started phasing out 3G services in September 2023 from few stations in core areas of Phuentsholing and Tsirang.

Those 30,000 subscribers of 3G are strongly encouraged to upgrade their 3G to 4G. If the individual does not upgrade their 3G SIM cards to 4G users will encounter network disruptions when travelling to areas without 3G coverage in the initial phases. 

Bhutan Telecom’s CEO, Karma Jurmi, said, “The company is implementing a phased approach in shutting down 3G base stations in selected urban areas.” 

He said that the process was expected to be extended over two to three years to completely phase out nationwide. 

“Replacing 3G services with 4G in areas serviced by 3G, enhances the quality and coverage of mobile services for users,” said the CEO. 

As the majority of the 3G users reside in rural areas, Bhutan Telecom plans to collaborate with gewog authorities to facilitate SIM upgrades for rural customers.

While Telecom begins shutting down 3G base stations in urban areas, regular updates to all Telecom customers throughout the phase-out period will be provided, said Karma Jurmi.

He said that in areas where the coverage of 4G and 5G networks is inadequate to serve customers, telecom will temporarily reinstate 3G networks until the 4G and 5G networks are sufficiently enhanced.

To ensure that network coverage remains seamless during the transition from 3G to 4G and 5G, Bhutan Telecom will replace 3G sites with upgraded ones that support both newer technologies.

Bhutan Telecom is assessing the traffic and coverage of the 3G network before deactivating any 3G sites, to minimise any potential disruptions.

“Once the migration is complete, we will continue monitoring network performance through various means such as drive tests, aligning antennas, and regular maintenance to ensure uninterrupted coverage for our customers,” said Karma Jurmi.

The CEO shared that phasing out older technologies helps reduce costs while maintaining outdated infrastructure and licences, helping improve overall cost efficiency. When discontinuing 3G service it helps avoid potential issues stemming from the unavailability of 3G network infrastructure due to manufacturers stopping production. 

He said that reallocating radio frequency resources from 3G to more advanced mobile technologies like 4G, 5G, and potentially 6G enhances spectral efficiency and capacity. Adhering to global mobile standards ensures that networks remain competitive and keep pace with technological advancements. 

The Tashicell General Manager, said they have started phasing out 3G services in urban areas since last year, but it will take approximately one to two years to start the phase-out of 3G in rural and semi-urban areas.