The two existing telcos, Bhutan Telecom and Tashi InfoComm, maintain that the Bhutanese market is too small to sustain a third operator and that they are faced with numerous challenges in providing efficient and customer satisfactory services at the moment.
According to Tashi InfoComm one major impediment is getting loans for their projects. “We need to have huge collateral assets like building and land to avail loans and our banks do not give loans based on our performance or the telecommunication assets,” said managing director of Tashi InfoComm, Tashi Tshering. “All our loans have to be backed by lands and buildings.”
He also said that they are unable to avail lands on time and so much of formalities need to be completed to set up their Base Transceiver Station (BTS) in places where they need the most like Thimphu and Phuntsholing. “There are not enough private lands in such cities and we have to depend on City Corporation to build towers which consumes lot of our time and delay providing timely efficient services to our users,” he said. “How about shortening that time?”
On the similar note Bhutan Telecom (BT) pointed out that rapid change in technologies is a major challenge which renders their existing system obsolete within a short period of their procurement.
“Now, such a situation calls for significant and periodic new investments, the Return on Investment (RoI) of which is often low or slow at times,” said Penjore, Marketing General Manager of BT. “Therefore, for a corporate body like ours, which is given financial targets annually, remaining abreast of such a rapid changing technology is definitely a challenge, considering the surging amount of investments required.”
TB Officials said they take initiatives to roll out new technologies on a timely basis. But then at times, they are confronted with the challenge of the ecosystem being not ready to embrace such a technology.
One good example is the recent launch of 4G LTE on a full throttle basis in Thimphu, Paro, Phuntsholing, Wangdue, and Punakha with the remaining dzongkhags to be covered later this year. “What we learnt from this experience is that although 4G LTE is launched, most people are not able take advantage of such privilege because their mobile phones do not support this new service,” BT officials said.
To address this issue the company said that they are trying to explore cheaper and good smart phones, which meet international safety and other standards.
The other challenge BT is facing is in terms of the growing expectations of customers. They said customers these days demand for high quality services at an exceptionally cheaper rate. “While we’ll try our best to meet such an expectation, at times, a trade-off needs to be made and this sometimes causes disappointment to few customers,” said Penjore.
BT recently received numerous feedbacks and complaints from its users when they doubled the amount of data from 475MB to 855MB for the same price, suggesting that the operator also ought to increase the validity period from one week to more.
“The unavoidable trade-off was that we had to bring down the validity of these packages a bit,” said the BT Marketing General Manager. “Now, this reduction in the validity might have disappointed a few customers who bombarded us with complaints through the print, broadcast and the social media. However, we have taken such feedbacks positively and we’ll definitely take appropriate course of action over the time.”
The other major challenge that both the operator face is the unforgiving geographical terrain. Penjore said that unlike most of our neighboring countries, providing flawless services in a mountainous terrain like Bhutan is undeniably one of the major challenges.
Tashi InfoComm also pointed out that they pay a huge amount as license fees, which is around Nu. 777 million.
BT said that they will continue to work in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) and that the Ministry and government have been very supportive so far. “In the process of doing so, we’d further need to make unattractive investments which may not pay off or may take a long time to yield return,” said Penjore. “Under such a situation, we’d like to request MoIC to further help us with subsidies, so that the game changing process of digitization happens to the entire nation and not just in some areas.”