Report: Bhutan has exceeded the mobile broadband internet penetration rate for developing countries, it is revealed in the latest annual information and communications statistical report released by the government.

Mobile broadband, categorised as 3G (third generation) or 4G connections, saw subscriptions increase by 83 percent, last year. This increase follows a 529 percent increase in 2013.

There were 215,665 mobile broadband subscribers as of December last year. This puts Bhutan’s mobile broadband penetration rate at almost 29 subscribers for every 100 people, which is above the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) rate of 21.1 for developing countries. However, Bhutan’s rate is still lower than the world estimate of 32.

Only 421 were subscribed for 4G services, which is available only in some areas of Thimphu, while 3G is available in 15 dzongkhags, however limited to only certain areas.

The increase in mobile broadband subscriptions also caused an overall increase in internet subscriptions by almost 40 percent.

There were increases in other types of broadband internet connections as well.

Fixed wire broadband subscriptions, provided through cables, increased by almost 4,500 users or 22 percent, last year. There were almost 25,000 fixed wire users in 2014. Bhutan’s fixed wire broadband penetration rate of 3.4 per every 100 people is lower than the ITU’s average of 6.1 for developing countries.

Almost a hundred leased line subscriptions were also added last year bringing the total number to 500. Large offices and organisations usually use leased line connections.

Subscriptions for earlier generations of mobile internet, the slower GPRS and EDGE services, decreased by 4.4 percent to a little more than 107,970 users, last year.

There was a total of 349,116 internet users in 2014, representing a 38.9 increase from the previous year.

Bhutan’s mobile phone services penetration rate also improved in 2014 to 84 for every 100 people. While it is still lower than the ITU’s global average of 96, it is an improvement of 10 from the previous year.

Mobile cellular penetration increased by 15 percent to almost 628,300 subscribers.

Bhutan Telecom’s (BT) market share decreased by 2.4 percent to 454,543 subscribers compared to Tashi InfoComm’s 173,746, which indicates that the former still commands a 72 percent market share.

While BT’s market share decreased it still saw an increase of almost 50,000 new subscribers.

Public complaints about BT mobile cellular connectivity promoted the company to invest almost USD 7.5 million to improve infrastructure and technology.

BT marketing manager Kinga Choden said that the current system allows for 30,000 simultaneous users for voice services and 6,000 for data services. She added that capacity would be increased by around 1,000 users once improvements are completed in September.

Meanwhile, fixed line phone subscriptions continued its downward trend, as everywhere else, by falling to 23,823, last year.

By Gyalsten K Dorji