ICT: Mobile and internet services are expected to improve when the ongoing infrastructure upgradation initiatives of Bhutan Telecom and Tashi InfoComm are completed by the end of August.

Bhutan Telecom is erecting five new 3G towers in Thimphu and 17 additional 3G towers in other dzongkhags. The company is also upgrading its 3G network bandwidth from 1.5 gigabits per second (Gbps) to 3 Gbps.

The infrastructure development initiatives also include the installation of 800 Access Points (APs) in Thimphu, and 200 APs in the other dzongkhags that are facing network congestions.

The works are expected to be completed by the end of August, according to a recent written reply from the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) to the National Council’s concerns on the poor quality of services.

The Council had written to the MoIC stating that the number of call drops and failure to access internet on both data cards and mobile phone have been visible and increasing for some time now.

The concerns have been raised at a time when the government is promoting G2C services, and services like online banking and mobile banking are becoming popular.

Bhutan Telecom’s managing director Tshewang Gyeltshen said that while the towers have been erected, the technical part of the work is being carried out.

He said there will be significant improvements in services although people may not feel the impact as much because of high expectations. He said Bhutan has one of the best networks in the region, but the customers compare the services with that of other countries like Thailand.

Despite the technical and geographical glitches, he said the services have improved. Since he joined the company as managing director, he said the company has invested Nu 2 billion on its mobile network.

“And the services have improved,” he said, adding that the company had to consider the business point of view while making any investments.

“While a tower covers a radius of one and a half kilometres in India, more towers are needed in Bhutan due to geographical factors,” he said, citing an example of technical difficulties. On the other hand, he said having many towers in a place caused network “interference”.

“Despite the technical difficulties, we are trying our best and working round the clock to improve our services,” he said.

To improve the access network services provided through the radio, backhaul cables are currently being replaced by fibre optical cables. Auto-diesel generators in areas that experience frequent power disruption have also been installed.

Similarly, Tashi InfoComm’s network upgradation works in Thimphu are under progress. The company’s 4G services in Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing are also believed to have reduced network congestions.

According to the MoIC, service quality is regulated based on the parameters set out by Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) while issuing the service provider license. However, with advancement in technology and the increase in the number of service users, the existing parameters were found to be insufficient and require improvement making the addition of new parameters inevitable.

MoIC has discussed the issue with BICMA and the two service providers, following which BICMA recently signed an agreement with the two service providers on the need to improve their service quality. According to the agreement, the service providers must execute initiatives to resolve the congestion issues.

“Bhutan Telecom continues to refer, as in the past, to on-going works to unclog the network. However, it has not had any positive impact,” the NC wrote to the MoIC.

With decreasing reliability of service, the house fears many online services that the government advocates may not be accessible. “The problems have, ironically, become more acute after the increase in taxes on mobile phone and internet services.”

In an effort to monitor the service quality, BICMA collects the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each Base Station Transceivers (BTS) in Thimphu along with the daily raw data and provides feedback to the operators to undertake corrective measures to improve the service quality.

In addition, the Department of IT and Telecom (DITT), MoIC drafted regulations for Quality of Services, which is ready to be submitted to the Office of Attorney

General for review.

The regulation is expected to put in place a systematic mechanism for monitoring service quality using the latest parameters to be used for measurement.

MB Subba