With the recent launch of 4G services in Samdrupjongkhar, Bhutan Telecom (BT) has provided the service in 16 dzongkhags.

Officials from BT’s regional office in Samdrup Jongkhar said the remaining four dzongkhags, Trashiyangtse, Dagana, Lhuntse and Gasa, will be connected with the service soon.

Before the launch of the 4G service, people of Samdrupjongkhar experienced issues with B-mobile network.

Officials said that the increasing number of users causes the network problem. “About 80 percent of the Samdrupjongkhar population today uses B-mobile,” an official said.

Officials explained that 4G is mainly for data and that more than 1,000 users subscribed for the SIM within a week.

BT, according to the officials, launched full-scale 4G service to commemorate the first birth anniversary of His Royal Highness the Gyalsay and to uphold BT’s credence to act responsibly in upholding the principle of balanced economic development through the extension of telecommunications service to rural and remote areas of the country.

But the 4G service has no voice over LTE (VOLTE) like 3G, which means 4G SIM users cannot make calls where there is no 2G and 3G services.

BT’s general manager for the marketing department, Penjore, said if people make calls, it should automatically fall back to 2G or 3G and 4G SIM has no fall back system.

He said the main difference between 3G and 4G is speed. “For 3G data service, the data speed is up to 21mbps but for 4G, data speed is up to 150 mbps.”

Penjore said that the expenditure of 4G depends upon on the type of mobile and the features people opt for.

He also said after providing 4G services in 20 dzongkhags, they will explore the possibility of providing the service to villages. “Being business oriented, we have to look for a return. If there is a genuine return, we will definitely connect 4G services in the villages.”

Officials said BT has received fewer complaints this year compared to the year before.

Penjore said implementation of cutting edge technologies like Wi-Fi offload, additional 3G sites and 4G LTE roll out have attributed to lesser complaints. “We are expanding the network and optimising it on a continuous basis to further improve the quality of our service.”

The general manager said that the rate at which technology is changing is overwhelming that the existing systems or equipment becomes obsolete very quickly. “Such a situation calls for significant and periodic new investments, the return on investment (RoI) of which is often low or slow at times,” he said.

He also said BT, which is given financial targets annually, face the challenge of keeping abreast of such a rapid changing technology, considering the surging amount of investments required.

“BT as a responsible ICT company takes initiatives to roll out new technologies on a timely basis, but then at times, we are confronted with the challenge of the ecosystem being not ready to embrace such a technology and one good example is the launch of 4G LTE,” the general manager said.

Penjore said that although 4G LTE is launched, most people are not able to take advantage of the service because the mobile phones they are using do not support 4G.

He said that they are trying to explore cheaper and good smart phones, which meet international safety and other standards.

He said another is the growing customer expectation. “Customers today demand high-quality services at an exceptionally cheap rate but trade-off needs to be made and this sometimes causes disappointment to a few customers.”

Penjore said that a specific case at hand is the recent launch of new data packages where BT almost doubled the amount of data, keeping the same price tag but the unavoidable trade-off was that they had to bring down the validity of some of these packages a bit.

He said this reduction in the validity might have disappointed a few customers who bombarded them with complaints through the print, broadcast and the social media and eventually they had to also increase the validity recently.

Today, about 53.9 percent of the Bhutanese population use B-mobile SIM and about 3.2% of them have 4G SIM. Bhutan Telecom’s 4G service was first piloted in 2013 in Thimphu.

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Samdrupjongkhar