Telcos take note of connectivity in Ge-SAR

Bhutan Telecom and Tashicel plan to improve network coverage

Jigmi Wangadi

If connectivity is important to Gelephu Mindfulness City, as a special administrative region, two telecommunications companies Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell are coordinating two initiatives to improve connectivity, expand and develop new infrastructure.

Karma Jurme, CEO of Bhutan Telecom, said that BT will ensure proper coverage of its network in Gelephu with better internet data speed and congestion-free voice and data services.

„We have already improved connectivity to Kelefu from both Timbu and Jagar. Work is underway to upgrade the transmission backbone and internet backbone links and add new sites immediately within key Kelefu areas,” Karma Jurm said.

Gelephu already has 90 percent BT network coverage. However, the rest of the area often receives weak signals. PT said it will build new sites in areas where the network is weak. „As we get more detailed plans for the city plan, we will work to further expand our network.”

BT will expand preventive maintenance efforts at Gelephu, incorporating enhanced drive tests and antenna alignment operations to ensure continued reliable network coverage.

Other projects include the installation of new towers and additional platforms to meet the overall needs of the city, including the outskirts of Gelephu and nearby dzongkhags.

„As part of our efforts to ensure reliable services to Gelephu Mindfulness City, we are already initiating network upgrade activities to ensure reliable coverage on the Thimbu, Paro and Thimbu – Gelephu highways,” Karma Jurmi said.

TashiCell officials said they plan to improve both the capacity and coverage of their mobile network in Khelefu to improve the quality of voice and mobile data as the number of users is expected to increase with the Mindfulness City project.

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TashiCell recently opened a branch office in Gelephu thromde.

“We expect our network size, in terms of physical site count, to triple over the next three years. Apart from the plan to increase the number of cell sites, we are in the process of deploying the new core network in Gelephu which will be operational in the second quarter of 2024,” said an official.

TashiCell plans to set up a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to provide internet services to companies and residential areas within the city.

„However, the speed and success of the network expansion will depend on timely support and proper route approvals from Sarbang Tongak, Kelebu Thromde and Kelebu SAR offices,” the official said.

The official said the mobile network expansion plan will be implemented by building new cell sites with outdoor and indoor 2G/4G/5G capabilities, with new generation technologies like three or four quarter towers, monopoles and 5G. Existing sites; Installation of fiber links between sites and core networks.

“Fiber to sites will be installed by reusing existing utility pipes wherever possible and installing Tashicell's underground pipes in areas where utility pipes are not available or sharing is not possible. The same pipes will also be used to build FTTH networks,” the official added.

Like Bhutan Telecom, Tashicell's network coverage is already available in most of the areas expected to be included in the Mindfulness City, the official said.

„When the city plan begins, we plan to increase the capacity and coverage of the network in line with the expected growth of users. Our network expansion plan will be fine-tuned once we have more clarity on the city's boundaries and population at various stages of its development,” the official said.

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„As digital connectivity has been identified as one of the three key focus areas for the country and the implementation of Gelephu Mindfulness City, TashiCell will leverage its extensive experience in building and managing modern mobile networks and its partnerships with renowned international vendors to meet the digital connectivity needs of the Mindfulness City,” the official said.

The third is the Internet gateway

Meanwhile, both BT and TashiCell are waiting for a third internet gateway, which they said will be crucial in ensuring reliable and uninterrupted services. After nearly a decade of negotiations with India and Bangladesh, the much-anticipated gateway to Bhutan is expected to materialize soon.

CEO Karma Jurmi said that talks on the third internet gateway have reached an advanced stage with India and Bangladesh and would seek the support of the GovTech agency to resolve the outstanding issues.

The gateway will be established at Kelebu, Sarbang and will connect Kelebu-Bongaikan-Agartala in India to Comilla-Kwakada in Bangladesh with Singapore.

The third gateway, Karma Jurmi said, is designed primarily for geo-redundancy for international connections and will not directly contribute to Gelephu network expansion plans. „However, apart from providing redundancy, additional capacity through the gateway will help meet the demand for additional bandwidth, which we will see soon,” he said.

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