Subscribers off the Network due to congestion

Sonam was standing for almost an hour near an ATM machine in Thimphu waiting to withdraw money from his account. However, it was too late when he realised that the wait would be forever, and his money won’t come out of the ATM because of network issues.

Likewise, scores of subscribers around the country are frustrated with the frequent disruption in telecommunication services. A B-Mobile subscriber from Tsirang, Dorji Wangdi said that he was in a ruckus what to do with the network fluctuation just when his wife was in labor pain at home and wanted to call emergency services. “I had to wake up my neighbor on the next flat in the middle of the night in a panicky situation like that,” he recalls. “It is a pity that someone like me living in an urban area has to bear such a brunt,” he added.

Telecom service providers meanwhile clarified that the network breakdown was due to the termination of international links.

“BT terminated the contract for one of its international links at the end of October due to which we had congestions in some parts of our network for a few days and customers experienced slow internet connectivity,” the Technical Director of Bhutan Telecom (BT) later told Business Bhutan. To resolve the slow internet connectivity BT has upgraded the capacity of one of the working links from November 3.

The frequent disruptions and congestions in network which once was a compelling issue, once again forced the subscribers in dilemma, seeking possible interruption from a third party operator other than the existing two in the market, in the hope of availing better services. The management of the two telecom operators, BT and Tashi Cell, meanwhile suggested it is better not to have a third operator due to the small market size.

“India at one point in time had some 6-7 mobile service operators or even more, and post the consolidation a few years ago, only 3 major mobile service providers, Airtel, Jio and Vodafone are in operation for a population size in excess of 1.4 billion people”, said the Technical Director of BT.  According to the Managing Director (MD) of Tashi Cell, competing in small market size for sustainability, the quality of the services will get degraded considering the expenditure and revenue the operator generates.

The subscribers of both the teleoperator are not content with high data tariffs and its faster exhaustion compared to neighboring countries, especially India. However, officials from both telecom operators state that it would be a misunderstanding to compare the services with India, a country that has greater economies of scale in terms of the size of the market, expenditure, and investment than Bhutan.

“We do not have that kind of volume of the customer base that India has and therefore both investments and returns on the investment are totally different,” said the Technical Director of BT. Additionally, Tashi Cell’s MD said that the data tariffs in the country are provided at a cheaper rate compared to those in Bangkok, Singapore, and other regional countries except India.

In response to the fast exhaustion of the data package, the companies explained that it is proportional to what kind of contents are accessed using which version of mobile technology (3G, 4G, or 5G), at what time of the day, and for how long. “How fast or slow a data pack balance is consumed would totally depend on the usage patterns of the individual customers,” said the Technical Director of BT.

With the national elections not lesser than a week to be held, works are in progress for an additional international link to Singapore which BT is targeting to commission before the poll day of the primary round of the NA election.  Tashi Cell has also deployed and altered the officials and the workers to check frequently for smooth delivery of the services.

Tashi Cell currently has around 300,000 subscribers and B-Mobile has around 450,000 subscribers at present. Both operators have extensive nationwide mobile network coverage including some of the remotest settlements in the country.

Sangay Wangdi from Thimphu