Phub Dem

When modern telecommunication was introduced in Bhutan on November 17, 1991, the days of postal runners had long disappeared. The evolution began with the opening of the first public telephone booth in the heart of Thimphu town.

Telecommunications received a significant boost in 1999 with the launch of the internet and television. Three years later, the country launched the first mobile communication service. Twenty-three years past, the communication sector has progressed rapidly.

Today, the country has two licensed telecommunication service providers and eight internet service providers (ISPs). All the gewogs have access to mobile services.

Following the global trend, fixed-line subscriptions in Bhutan have been declining over the past few years. Fixed-line subscriptions peaked in 2005 with 32,709 subscribers. Since then, the number of subscribers has been declining, with the number reaching to just 19,680 subscriptions last year.

According to the annual statistical report by the Ministry of Information and Communications, the number of fixed telephone line subscriptions has decreased by about 14 percent since 2020— there are 2.6 subscriptions per 100 residents today.

This, according to the report, could be attributed to the rise in mobile cellular broadband services.

Mobile services are now available in all the 20 dzongkhags and gewogs except for a few remote villages. Last year, the two operators, Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Infocomm, had a combined subscription base of 778,008, an increase of 4.4percent from 2020.

The country had 102.9 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants last year, which is better than the average of the least developing countries (75.6), landlocked countries (77), and small Island developing countries (87.1). However, it is still behind the Americas (119.4), European countries (118.2), and Asia and the Pacific region (112.4).

The overall internet subscriptions in the country as of December 2021 was 751,590, an increase of 1.3 percent compared with 2020.

“The increase in a total number of internet subscriptions could be attributed to the increased use of the internet for online education and increased mobile cellular users,” the report states.

However, active mobile broadband connections (connections having 3G, 4G or 5G connections) saw a decrease of 18,573 subscribers compared to 2020. The decline in active mobile broadband subscriptions with an increase in mobile cellular subscriptions could be because of using internet data from only one operator, even if the users have more than one mobile cellular SIM card subscription.

According to a corporate employee, Phuntsho, telephones at government offices lie ideal. He said that installing phones at offices was a waste and stress on the infrastructure and an unnecessary expenditure. “Most people use telephones for personal reasons.”

According to the latest Bhutan Trade Statistic, telephones for cellular networks or other wireless networks was fifth among the top ten commodities imported. The country spent Nu 2.4 billion on importing the commodity last year.