Meanwhile both companies have pledged to improve their services soon
Mobile and internet connectivity has been a growing headache for many users across the country but now the days of ‘business as usual’ is over as both the Telecom giants in Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell has been put on notice by the government.
In response to a question on poor telecom and internet connectivity by The Bhutanese the Prime Minister said, “If the services don’t improve by this September, the government may be compelled to consider opening the market to a third operator.”
The PM said that the government will wait till August and see how much the services have improved or not.
He said that earlier Bhutan only had Bhutan Telecom, and in 2006 the license was given to Tashi Cell on open quotation based on which they were given an exclusive license till 2013 which means till 2013 the government wouldn’t allow any other company besides Bhutan telecom and Tashi Cell. The PM pointed out that the 2013 exclusivity had finished three years ago and the government was no longer under any obligation to restrict the telecom market to only two players.
“Now if the services are good and up to the expectation of the people, we don’t need more operators, as it will just get too crowded,” said the PM.
He said, “However, if the services are below potential and below what the people require and demand, then the government may be compelled to consider opening the market to a third operator.”
The Prime Minister During said that a lot more needs to be done in terms of cellular and data connectivity.
“We have been told that by august things should improve, especially for Bhutan Telecom,” said the PM.
Lyonchhen pointed out that Telecom companies better think carefully about this as a third company would eat into their revenue and market share.
The PM said that in some ways the services for a small and poor country are quite good, but in some other ways given the potential that Bhutan has, the services are severely lacking and Bhutan can do much better.
The Minister of Information and Communication (MoIC), Lyonpo D.N Dhungyel said that he himself was frustrated with the services as even his cabinet colleagues found it challenging to connect to the Wi-Fi internet in the meet the press venue.
Highlighting the nature of the problem the minister said that he gets many calls at all hours from many people complaining about the quality of the Telecom services.
Lyonpo said, “The penetration of mobile and 3G services is as high as 98% but nevertheless the ministry has been receiving numerous complaints about the services from the clients.”
He said that the ministry is in the process of identifying a vendor to do service reliability tests so that the consistency of the services can be assessed. Based on this study, areas which face connectivity issue will be given priority.
Lyonpo also said that few initiatives are already being implemented to ensure that Telecom companies improve services.
He said that the ministry and BICMA as a regulating authority is working closely to improve the accessibility based on three approaches.
The Ministry has carried out a study through a World Bank grant to access the price and Quality of Service (QoS) in the Telecom market and subsequently develop a regulation for both price and QoS.
“The regulation is expected to put in place a systematic mechanism for monitoring the QoS,” Lyonpo said.
In line with this, Lyonpo said that the BICMA has recently signed a Service Level Agreement with both the Telecom operators on improving the existing parameters for monitoring of the performance of the Telecom companies. They will now be regulated through these mechanisms. One of the key aspects of the agreement is that BICMA will henceforth, collect raw data and monitor the operators through this system. The raw data would further be analyzed to improve the quality of service
Lyonpo said that as a measure to improve services, Bhutan Telecom has deployed 180 access points in Thimphu to offload 3G congestion. To improve the access network services backhaul cables are currently being replaced by fiber optics
For the other parts of the country where even the simple connectivity can’t be accessed, the Auto Diesel Generators are being installed in areas which experiences frequent power disruption.
Lyonpo said that by the end of the August infrastructure up gradation in BT will be completed since BT is upgrading its 3G backhaul network from 1.5 Gbps to 3 Gbps which will improve service.
In addition 5 new 3G towers will be erected in Thimphu and additional 17 3G towers will be erected in other dzongkhags. More access points will be installed in Thimphu and rest of the dzongkhags where there are network congestion issues.
Similarly, Lyonpo emphasized that 4G network was launched recently in Thimphu, Paro and Phuntsholing which is intended to reduce the traffic on 3G network leading to a better service experience for all the users.
Meanwhile, the Bhutan Telecom spokesperson Sonam Choden said, “Due to changing data usage patterns and increase in 3G users, our 3G network capacity has been congested resulting in slow speed or connectivity”
“Most of our 3G capacity especially in the core town area has been fully exhausted with the rapid migration of customer from 2G to 3G and also due to availability of cheaper 3G handsets in the market.”
The ICT division said, “As a solution, BT has deployed BT Wi-Fi and BT offload services in various locations to off load data usage on 3G network. BT Wi-Fi and Offload will help reduce data usage on 3G thereby stabilizing and creating consistent network” adding that Bhutan Telecom is also rigorously working towards improving the network quality through network expansion.
The Managing Director of Tashi InfoComm Ltd, Tashi Tshering said, “I agree that our network especially in 3G area has degraded slightly because that’s what our Key Performance Indicator (KPI) shows”
He said that is mainly due to increased number of customers which contributes to congestion in network traffic. “We couldn’t increase our sites as much because we are working with the Thromde to get land to build towers. Getting land has become very difficult,” he added.
Many more base stations are to be deployed in Thimphu and Phuntsholing as degradation is mainly in Thimphu due to dense number of users. He said, “Thromde is bit cautious about letting us build towers everywhere.”
He said, “We are also looking at the option of sharing a tower with Bhutan telecom as we have signed an agreement with BT last week to share a tower. That cooperation is going to be faster than getting land from the City Corporation.”
He assured that Tashi Cell should be able to provide relief 3G within one month substantially because BT has agreed to share some sites with them.
“We have all equipments but no sites, so now that we can share sites with BT, we are planning not to put the sites on rooftops because more and more people are complaining and we are instead planning to remove even the existing ones and that’s why we are going to put them on Green Field Towers,” he said.
While both BT and TC have made assurances in the past this time around failure could very well mean a third competitor.