ICT: Around 100,000 B-mobile prepaid customers including a few post-paid users were affected by a recent technical glitch, which caused the telco to deduct credit despite no data being used.

Officials from Bhutan Telecom (BT) had previously attributed the credit deductions to the software and mobile application updating process.

However, on July 2, the telco acknowledged its error and informed its subscribers through SMS that affected customers will be refunded or re-credited for the amounts that were deducted.

BT CEO, Tshewang Gyeltshen, said that during an upgrade procedure on July 20, a technical glitch had led to the deductions.

“While it is difficult to pinpoint how some extra deductions happened, we are aware that it is because of implementing the new charging interface to replace the existing one, as part of network optimisation and for improved service delivery,” he said.

The telco had recently upgraded the mobile-to-internet line from 1.5Gbps (gigabits per second) to 3Gbps to ease network congestion.

Inline with the upgrade of these systems, the old billing system, which maintains records of the charges, also had to be upgraded.

For the new and comprehensive billing system, the company invested Nu 120 million.

Problems began surfacing after July 20 but the technical glitch was detected only by July 22 after which the rectification process was begun.

The only solution then, Tshewang Gyeltshen said was to shut down the entire system, which would have blacked out the entire network.

“It would have been much easier for us to just restart the process to resolve the issue which would have taken around 20 minutes,” he said.  “But this would have resulted in service outage for the entire country for about 20 minutes which would have caused great inconvenience for everyone.”

He said that this easier route was not considered bearing in mind that uninterrupted service is required for customers.

It took the team some 48 hours to normalise the system. The CEO said that it was during this time that double charging had occurred.

By yesterday, all affected prepaid customers were credited for the deductions, he said. Postpaid users will  be compensated in their monthly bills.

Tshewang Gyeltshen acknowledged the error on behalf of the company and said that the management takes full responsibility.

“I would like to apologise to all the affected customers and assure them that such incidents will not happen again,” he said. “This error has happened not through sheer ignorance but because of the complicated process involved in upgrading the system.”

The CEO clarified that the extra amount deducted at any point of time remains in the system account with the telco and in no way can it be misused.

He assured that the telco has put in place extra measures to prevent similar issues from recurring. “As a user when things don’t work people do get upset, but it is our responsibility to make sure that such things don’t repeat.”

To address congestion in the network, BT is upgrading several systems. However, Tshewang Gyeltshen said that because the mobile system is intricate and complicated, any addition or upgrade in the system is a challenge.

He said that the system, which was once built for only 3,000 users, is now handling over 400,000 active users.

He added that because of the lack of redundancy, works have to be carried out on a live system, which poses high risks of service disruption.   “However, a thorough study is done, risks analysed, proper action plans drawn up, and care taken before any work on the live system is carried on to ensure that service disruption is minimised as far as possible.”

Younten Tshedup