A land based microwave radio link or terrestrial microwave radio link will be installed by November this year, to improve cellular services for the people of Lunana.

Lunana was connected with cellular service in early October 2011 with a fund of Nu 20 million. Currently Lunana is connected via satellite link.

An official from Bhutan Telecom Limited (BT) said that starting 2016, the satellite link for the cellular tower started developing problems. “Despite all efforts to make it stable, it has been going on and off frequently due to which the cellular service there has been erratic.”

He said that since BT could not restore the satellite link despite repeated attempts in maintenance, a proposal with request for subsidy to set up a terrestrial radio link in Lunana was submitted to the information and communications ministry.

The ministry wrote to the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) who is in-charge of the Universal Service Fund. After assessment the authority released Nu 5.5 Million to BT.

Director General of BICMA, Chencho Dorji, said access is a priority for the government and BICMA.

He said that 70 percent of the fund amounting to Nu 3.85 million has already been released.  “After completion we will go up, verify if the systems are operational and then we will release the remaining Nu 1.65 Million.”

The terrestrial radio link for Lunana would be established through stations at Dochula, Lusigang or Boeldro in Punakha, Kechela and Lunana.

BT official said a terrestrial microwave radio link would have land-based physical stations daisy chained (multiple devices wired together or connected in series) to reach the intended service coverage areas. “These stations mostly powered by solar and diesel generator back-up have microwave radio equipment which relay signals to/from other stations in the daisy chain.”

He said the terrestrial radio link will have higher bandwidth (rate of data transfer) compared to satellite link. “The existing satellite link has only 512 Kilobits per second while the terrestrial radio link can deliver a minimum of 200 Megabit per second,” he said. “With the terrestrial radio link put in place, cellular data service can be enhanced in future either through 3G or 4G which is not feasible with the existing satellite link.”

According to BT, transportation of equipment and structures, and the installation works are yet to start. Work on the procurement of radio equipment and accessories are almost complete.

The official said that the microwave radio relay stations are located in high altitudes which can only be accessed by helicopter services and have to depend on weather conditions. “Given the geographic nature of the terrain, we have a very small window during which installation works or maintenance can happen,” he said.  “Every time these stations develop fault and malfunction, we would need to hire a helicopter to fly in maintenance staff, which is a very expensive affair.”

Chencho Dorji said that there are many things to be done such as procurement, giving out quotation, transportation and installation. BT is given four months starting July 31 to November 30 to complete the work. “BT gave a very reasonable project duration, they are cooperative and trying their best. We expect the project to be completed by November.”

Karma Cheki