Phub Dem 

Confined in homes during movement restrictions, people have spent more time online.

One of the repeated complaints during the recent lockdowns was about the slow network connection.

Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has been constantly monitoring the quality of the service.

Earlier this year, the Authority fined the two telcos—Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Infocomm—for failing to meet the quality of services in some parts of Thimphu.

Following the review report of the quality of services in Thimphu earlier this year, the authority asked the telecom operators to submit the quality service report of each base transceiver station (BTS) from the dzongkhags affected by lockdown.

The reports were collected from core areas of Thimphu, Sarpang and Gelephu, Phuntsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, Wangdue, Punakha, Tsirang Core, Pemagatshel and Nganglam, Dagana, and Mongar.

The Operation Support Systems (OSS) reports for each Base Transceiver Station (BTS) were compiled from the telecoms from January 24 to February 13.

According to the report, there were no issues with data success and drop rates in all the B-Mobile BTS in Thimphu and the other nine dzongkhags. However, data throughputs (the amount of material or items passing through a system or process) of B-Mobile’s 4G network in about 32 serving cells in Thimphu did not meet the minimum standard.

The OSS report of B-mobile for three weeks revealed that data throughput in some BTS located in core areas of Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Wangdue, Punakha, Ngalam, and Mongar failed to meet the minimum standards.

There were no issues with data throughput in Dagana, Tsirang, and Phuentsholing town.

It was observed that the data throughput had increased gradually in the third week in most cell sites.

According to the report, there were no issues with data throughput in Thimphu and the other nine core areas for the Tashi cell. The telecom company met all the standards of service drop rates, success rate and data throughputs.

Based on the report, it was found that the operators maintained average minimum standards towards the end of the lockdown in February.

According to BICMA officials, the authority reminded the operators to improve the service wherever the cell site has throughput below the benchmarks. He said that BICMA was working towards co-ordinating with the relevant agencies such as thromde and dzongkhags to acquire site clearances to expand mobile network capacity.

While enhancing quality service and network densification could be possible by installing more network sites, obtaining site clearance is a challenge. Operators have been raising the issue of not getting the site clearance to install mobile network sites from the relevant agencies.

According to the authority to enhance the capacity of the mobile networks, BICMA has recently prepared the frequency band plan and released the additional frequency spectrum at 2300MHz. “The authority is also working on enhancing the usage of fixed internet services in the country.”

The official said that BICMA would regularly monitor the quality of services and levy the penalty to the operators wherever there are no unavoidable conditions, such as expanding the network sites. “Despite the operators’ initiatives and their willingness to install more network sites, due to prolonged bureaucratic processes and restrictions, the telcos cannot obtain site clearance to install more network sites. Therefore, BICMA will have to review on a case by case basis and levy the penalties accordingly.”

The penalties are imposed based on the number of locations with poor network connectivity.

In an attempt to address the issue with site acquisition, BICMA coordinated a meeting with the Thimphu Thromde at the end of March to facilitate the site acquisition for the telecom operators.

The officer said that the meeting also discussed incorporating the provision of communication networks within the Thromde Urban master plan considering the importance of  ICT services like mobile networks and fixed internet services.

Other challenges include residents objecting to the telcos from constructing mobile network sites. The lack of a common duct facility in the thromde poses a challenge to the telcos in laying fibres in homes to provide quality internet connection.

“Considering all those challenges, sometimes imposing penalties alone on the telcos does not solve the issues,” he said.