Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell plans improved network coverage

Jigmi Wangdi


If connectivity is key to the Gelephu Mindfulness City, as a special administrative region, the two telcos – Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell are in sync with the vision with both starting works to upgrade, expand and establish new infrastructure to improve connectivity.

Bhutan Telecom’s CEO, Karma Jurme, said that BT will optimise its network in Gelephu to ensure proper coverage with the best internet data speed and with no congestion for both voice and data services.

“We have already augmented the connectivity to Gelephu from both Thimphu and Jakar by upgrading the transmission backbone and Internet backbone links and works are in progress to add new sites within core Gelephu areas immediately,” said Karma Jurme.

Gelephu already has 90 percent of BT network coverage. However, the remaining area mostly receives weak signals. BT, the CEO said, will build new sites in those areas where the network is weak. “As we get more detailed plans for the city project, we shall be working to further expand our network.”

BT will also broaden preventive maintenance efforts in Gelephu by incorporating enhanced drive tests and antenna alignment activities, to ensure consistently reliable network coverage.

Other plans include installing new towers and additional sites to keep with the complete requirements for the city, including Gelephu’s peripheral areas and neighbouring dzongkhags.

“We are already initiating network enhancement activities to ensure reliable coverage in Thimphu, Paro and the Thimphu – Gelephu Highways as part of our effort to ensure reliable services for the Gelephu Mindfulness City,” Karma Jurmi said.

TashiCell officials said that they are planning to enhance both the capacity and coverage of their mobile network in Gelephu to enhance the quality of voice and mobile data as the number of users is expected to increase with the Mindfulness City project.

TashiCell recently opened a branch office in the Gelephu thromde.

“We expect our network size, in terms of physical site count, to grow by three times in the next three years. Besides the plan to scale up the number of cell sites, we are also in the process of deploying a new Core Network in Gelephu, which will be commissioned in the second quarter of 2024,” an official said.

TashiCell has plans to set up a Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) network to provide Internet services to the enterprises and residential areas within the city.

“However, the speed and success of the network expansion will be contingent upon the timely support and right-of-way approvals accorded by the Sarpang Dzongkhag, Gelephu Thromde, and Gelephu SAR offices,” the official said.

The official said that the mobile network expansion project will be implemented by building both outdoor and indoor 2G/4G/5G capable new cell sites using three or four-legged towers, monopoles, and in building structures,overlying new generation technologies like 5G on the existing sites; and establishing fibre links between the sites and the Core networks.

“The fibre to the sites will be established by reusing existing utility ducts wherever it is feasible and building TashiCell’s underground ducts in the areas where the utility ducts are not available or sharing is not possible. These same ducts shall also be utilised for building the FTTH networks,” the official added.

Similar to Bhutan Telecom, the official said that TashiCell’s network coverage is already available in most of the areas that are expected to be included within the Mindfulness City.

“We have plans to scale up the capacity and coverage of the network in line with the expected growth of the users as the city project starts. Our network expansion plan will be fine-tuned once we have more clarity on the city’s boundary and the number of people in the city at the various phases of its development,” the official said.

“As digital connectivity has been identified as one of the three key focus areas for the country and the enabler of Gelephu Mindfulness City, TashiCell will leverage its extensive experience in building and managing modern mobile networks and its partnerships with the reputed international vendors to fulfil the digital connectivity requirements of the Mindfulness City,” the official said.


Third internet gateway

Meanwhile, both BT and TashiCell are waiting for the  third internet gateway, which they said would be crucial in ensuring reliable and uninterrupted services. The much-awaited gateway for Bhutan, after nearly a decade of negotiations with India and Bangladesh, is expected to materialise soon.

CEO Karma Jurmi said that the talks on the third internet gateway have reached  advanced stages with India and Bangladesh and that they are seeking support from the GovTech Agency to resolve pending issues.

The gateway will be established in Gelephu, Sarpang, and will connect Gelephu-Bongaigaon-Agartala in India to Comilla-Kuakata in Bangladesh to Singapore.

A third gateway, Karma Jurmi said, is designed primarily for geo-redundancy for international links and will not directly contribute to the Gelephu network expansion plans. “However, besides providing redundancy, the additional capacity through the gateway will help meet the requirements for additional bandwidth that we will see shortly, ” he said.