Networking: Nepalis in no hurry to upgrade to 4G service

April 27, 2017

The Kathmandu Post, Post Report, 27th April 2017, Kathmandu

It appears Nepalis are in no hurry to upgrade to 4G service with only 550,000 subscribers signing up for the new technology so far. 

State-run Nepal Telecom (NT) rolled out 4G coverage as a pilot phase in Kathmandu and selected areas in Pokhara for postpaid users in January. The service was extended to prepaid users in the beginning of February. 

The subscription base of 4G service had reached 400,000 as of mid-February. According to NT, 310,000 GSM prepaid users and 90,000 postpaid users had upgraded to the network. 

NT was able to attract only 100,000 new subscribers to the 4G network during the past two months from mid-February to mid-April.

NT is the largest telecom service provider in the country. The company has 14.2 million subscribers in the voice segment alone. Likewise, it has 7.76 million subscribers using internet through GPRS, EDGE and WCDMA technology.

The capital Kathmandu with a population of 4 million is among the major markets for telecommunications service providers. 

While posts on social media would show that the lukewarm response to NT’s 4G service is due to network speed and limited coverage area, the phone giant says the reason is the small number of 4G compatible sets in circulation. “Even though smartphone penetration in Kathmandu is high, not all sets are compatible with the 4G network. This is one of the major reasons behind the slow growth rate,” said Sobhan Adhikari, joint spokesperson for NT. 

He added that while most cell phones sold in the market were compatible with the 4G network, handsets sent by Nepalis residing abroad as gifts may not be compatible with the 1800 MHz frequency band which NT uses to transmit and receive signals. Likewise, the fact that 4G service can be used only in USIM has played a crucial role in limiting the growth of NT’s newly launched service. NT had launched USIM around four years ago. Subscribers who acquired SIM cards before USIM was rolled out need to replace them. This means they have to endure the hassle of making a trip to the NT office and getting a new SIM card. 

Joint spokesperson for NT Prativa Vaidya told the Post that the company was preparing to add another 79 BTS (base transceiver station) towers in Kathmandu and 25 BTS towers in Pokhara to provide better 4G network. 

Currently, NT maintains 308 BTS towers in Kathmandu to provide 4G service. NT has sought an additional 5 MHz bandwidth to increase speed and expand service. 

In Pokhara, 4G service is limited to Lakeside and New Road which is why it hasn’t been able to attract many customers.

Meanwhile, NT has been working to open 4G service in 15 major municipalities across the country. The company has stated that it will soon issue a tender notice to procure the necessary equipment.