In response to a question from The Bhutanese on poor mobile and internet connectivity the Prime Minister on 3rd June 2016 had said that if services don’t improve by September, the government may be compelled to consider opening the market to a third operator.
The PM had said that the government will wait till August 2016 and see how much the services have improved or not.
The MoIC Minister Lyonpo D.N Dhungyel in the same meet the press venue at the time supplemented the PM’s answer saying among other things that BICMA is undertaking a study on the issue.
With September here and no major improvement in services The Bhutanese asked the MoIC Minister on what would the government be doing now.
Lyonpo said, “BICMA is still evaluating whether the services have improved or not, if it is really poor, if the service is always poor or if it is only so at certain times, if it is bad only in certain pockets and also on the quality of service in both rural and urban areas.”
Lyonpo said that based on this report the ministry would come up with a decision.
He said that if the service is found to not have improved then the service providers may request for a few additional months time to change the machinery and do other things to improve services.
Lyonpo said that even if by then the services have not improved then the government would have to look at the option of a third operator.
However, before a decision is taken the MoIC along with BICMA would be conducting a market survey to see the whether a third operator is feasible or not.
The minister said that then the government could take the final call on a third operator. He said that the government’s Telecom and Broadband policy allows for the government to appoint a third operator if necessary.
Both Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell who are yet to significantly improve their services have been arguing that the market will not be viable for a third operator.
Of the two telecom operators there have been more complaints against BT due to the sheer number of users though T-Cell also has its fair share of issues as its base grows too.
The commitment from BT, at the time, was to significantly improve services by August as it was upgrading from 3G backhaul network from 1.5 Gbps to 3 Gbps which will improve service.
In addition 5 new 3G towers were to be erected in Thimphu and additional 17 3G towers were to be erected in other dzongkhags. More access points were to be installed in Thimphu and rest of the dzongkhags where there are network congestion issues.
Both BT and T-Cell at the time admitted to problems in their 3 G network due to congestion. Apart from internet issues there have been issues of call drops, deductions etc among others.
BICMA signed a performance agreement on 30th March this year with the BT and T-Cell whereby BICMA required the two mobile service providers to submit peak hour data for the months of April, May and June to assess whether they are maintaining optimal service quality as required. The peak hours have been identified as 8-9 am and 9-10 pm.
Call and data drops (failure to make calls or connect to internet or disconnection during active sessions) have been identified as the main problem instigating the recent public dissatisfaction which in turn is caused by an increasing number of subscribers especially in urban areas like Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu.
The MoIC will be awaiting the final and complete report from BICMA before taking any steps.