… as another move to decongest its 3G network 

ICT: As part of its effort to decongest its 3G network, Bhutan Telecom (BT) is re-introducing public WiFi hotspots in the Thimphu core area.

The telecom company was the target of much public criticism last year given poor connectivity issues faced by its customers.

Five WiFi hotspots have been established at the referral hospital, Bhutan Post, city cinema, Norzin Lam, and youth village.

When a 3G users of BT enters the WiFi hotspot, the user is automatically “handed over” to the WiFi network which according to the company, frees up 3G capacity for others outside these hotspots. When the 3G user exits the WiFi hotspot, the user is again automatically handed back to the 3G network.

“It may however be noted that the WiFi hotspots by design are for stationary users and will not support mobility,” a spokesperson for the telecom company said.

The telecom company also attempted the same move in 2012. Five WiFi hotspots were introduced that year in Thimphu city. Druknet broadband subscribers could use their personal accounts to access the WiFi network. But with low usage, the plan failed and was largely discontinued by 2013.

The company is not expecting a repeat. “What BT is putting in place in the form of WiFi hotspots this time is of carrier grade with better control on the quality of service and we are confident that as compared to the past, this time the performance of the WiFi hotspots will be better,” the spokesperson said.

It was also pointed out that the WiFi hotspots will also cater to non-3G users, described as walk-in customers and existing BT fixed line broadband users.

Network upgraded

BT completed its upgrade of its core networks in September last year.

“With the upgrades, we have capacity for 77,000 simultaneous 3G users out which 90 percent are data users,” the company’s spokesperson said. “In 2G we have capacity for about 23,000 simultaneous users out of which 90 percent are voice users.”

As of June last year, BT had almost 255,000 3G subscribers.

The increase in simultaneous users is almost double of what was available mid-last year.

“Our experience tells that data user behaviour is unpredictable and therefore it has not been possible for us to forecast and dimension our system appropriately,” said the company’s spokesperson on complaints that poor network connectivity persists in the core city areas.

He said that given expenses in upgrading the system, over dimensioning the capacity at one go is also not an advisable option.

“One of the main factors why there are so much of data consumption is that our data tariffs are among the cheapest in the region,” the spokesperson said.

However, there are regular complaints on the BT Facebook page about their rates, especially when compared to India.

It was pointed out that BT customers consume 20TB (terabytes) of data daily, of which 5TB is mobile data traffic.

Asked if any more improvements to the network are being planned, the BT spokesperson said that performance of the network is monitored on a regular basis.

“Whenever and wherever abnormalities and performance not within defined international standards are observed, optimisation efforts are put in, some of which include capacity enhancements on the existing resources and addition of new cell sites,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the kind of terrain we have, inter cell interferences of signals have been one of the major challenges due to which quality of service degrades.”

Use of over-the-top (OTT) apps, like WeChat and Viber has caused a drop in the usage of voice and SMS services of BT and therefore affected their revenue. However, the company has no plans to attempt regulating the usage of such mobile apps.

“We rather feel we should embrace OTT technology and take advantage of the flexibility that is inherent in it.”

Gyalsten K Dorji