Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Nepal has long way to improve 4G and start thinking about 5G



Over the years, efforts to expand the telecom sector in Nepal have met with many challenges. The fixed line market in Nepal remains underdeveloped. A major reason for this is due to the dominance of the mobile segment. Overall penetration reached only 2.8% in 2019.

The market is predicted to decrease slightly over the next five years to 2024 as the mobile segment continues to grow for both voice and data/broadband usage.

Fixed broadband penetration in Nepal remains very low mainly due to a limited number of fixed lines and the subsequent dominance of the mobile platform. Also, the declining number of fixed lines is restricting more widespread development of fixed broadband. However, the market has grown strongly over the past five years from a very small base with penetration increasing from 0.9% in 2014 to 3.9% in 2019.

Fibre-optic networks are developing all over the country under private and public funding. The growing demand for high speed internet will strongly push the development of fixed broadband. Over the next five years to 2024 strong growth is expected to continue. Fixed broadband penetration is predicted to reach 10% by 2024.

Between 2018 and 2019 numerous ISP announced contracts with Nokia to deploy fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) in the country. This is in line with the government’s vision of a digital society, whereby 90% of the population will have access to broadband services by 2020.

Nepal’s mobile market is now relatively developed and has experienced extraordinarily strong growth over the last years. Slower growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024. The market will be constrained from higher growth due to an already high penetration rate.

Nepal has seen a very rapid increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past seven years driven by increasing numbers of 3G and 4G mobile subscribers. However, the mobile broadband market is still at an early stage of development with penetration well below most other Asian countries. Strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

The Nepal Telecommunications Authority said in its latest management information system report (July 17-August 17 2019) that 52 percent of Nepalis had access to mobile broadband. The number of 3G and 4G users has also increased within a year. There were 11 million 3G users in Nepal, up from 9 million. The number of 4G users has also increased to 4 million from 1 million. This implies that the number of video engagements has also been swelling with many people using TikTok, YouTube and Facebook video streaming sites.

However the quality of mobile video experience in Nepal is still somewhere at the bottom, according to the latest report by Opensignal which gave a rank of 86 among 100 countries. Mobile service providers have been expanding 4G services across Nepal, but the quality of video received on cell phones has not improved much in the past year. According to the Open Signal report, Nepal's quality of mobile video experience received a score of 43.3 percent this year, remaining unchanged compared to last year. Experts said lack of infrastructure was the major reason for the country's not being able to provide better quality mobile video.

Nepal has three GSM mobile operators: Nepal Telecom (state-owned),  Ncell (owned by Axiata) and
Smart Cell (by Smart Telecom, limited coverage on 2G, 4G/LTE; no 3G).

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz. In 2016 the government of Nepal had begun the process of converting existing wireless licences to technology neutral permits, enabling operators to use their current 900 MHz for 3G and free their 1800 MHz (B3) frequency holdings to offer 4G/LTE services. 4G/LTE had been launched by all three providers in 2017.

Have in mind that given its mountainous territory, coverage can be very spotty and data speeds extremely slow outside the Kathmandu central valley or Pokhara.




Nepal Telecom (NTC) is the state owned, national provider in Nepal. It has a monopoly on landlines and broadband, but competes with Ncell for mobile customers. In 2017 it held about 50% of the mobile market.

NTC uses 900 Mhz for 2G and 2100 Mhz for 3G. Simultanously, it runs a CDMA network too which will be switched off by 2021. GSM-coverage is slightly lower than Ncell. Until 2017 only about 60 3G sites have been installed and on air including Banepa, Bhaktpur, total 59 sites in Kathmandu and 1 site in Pokhara. 4G/LTE has started as first provider in Nepal in 2017 on 1800 MHz (B3) only in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara only opened for prepaid. NTC signed 40,000 LTE users in two weeks alone. In 2019/20 the 4G network was expanded



Ncell is the no.2 in Nepal with 46% share and was renamed 2010 from Mero Mobile. In 2015/6 it was sold from Telia to the Malaysian Axiata Group giving it a new logo.

Its 2G is on 900 and 1800 Mhz and reaches 90% of population, 3G is on 2100 Mhz in about 20 of the biggest towns. Ncell Coverage Map. Ncell is the better provider in the country, but there are still many areas uncovered and don't expect high speeds.

The start of their 4G/LTE was further delayed in 2017 by taxation issues and was finally launched in June 2017 on 900 and 1800 MHz in the Kathmandu Valley, including the areas of Nagarkot, Banepa and Dhulikhel. In summer 2017 the cites of Biratnagar, Birtamode, Damak, Dharan, Bharatpur, Hetauda, Birjung, Bhairahawa, Butwal and Nepalgunj were added to the 4G/LTE network. In 2019 seven of the country’s provinces and over 1,000 locations nationwide are covered, making it Nepal’s most extensive 4G network.

Fixed-wireless operator Smart Telecom was granted a licence in 2013 allowing it to expand into the mobile market. It used to be called Smart Cell, but is now called Smart.

So far it only has coverage in a few provinces and can't be recommended for travelling. They only had 4.4% of Nepal's mobile market in 2017.

They are on 2G/GSM on 1800 MHz. In 2017 a license to use 4G/LTE was granted to Smart and in October 2017 Smart has finally launched its long-awaited 4G/LTE service, with the company stating that it is now live in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Pokhara. The new 4G service offers customers speeds of up to 70 Mbps. Smart Telecom has been granted 10 MHz of frequencies in the 1800 MHz (B3), while its two competitors Nepal Telecom (NT) and Ncell have only been allocated 5 MHz each in this spectrum band.

Back in December, The Kathmandu Post reported that the quality of mobile video experience in Nepal is still somewhere at the bottom, according to the latest report by Opensignal which gave a rank of 86 among 100 countries. Mobile service providers have been expanding 4G services across Nepal, but the quality of video received on cell phones has not improved much in the past year, said Opensignal. Nepal's quality of mobile video experience received a score of 43.3 percent this year, remaining unchanged compared to last year. Experts said lack of infrastructure was the major reason for the country's not being able to provide better quality mobile video.

The report also highlighted that Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) said in its latest management information system report (July 17-August 17) that 52 percent of Nepalis had access to mobile broadband. The number of 3G and 4G users has also increased within a year. There were 11 million 3G users in Nepal, up from 9 million. The number of 4G users has also increased to 4 million from 1 million.

A recent report from Nepali Telecom stated that the Minister for Communication and Information technology (MOCIT) has expressed his plan to promote the expansion of 4G and introduce 5G in Nepal. He claimed his preference to enhance and expand the services of the government-owned telco rather than the private telcos. The main concern is for the expansion of 4G with Nepal Telecom (NTC) in all places of Nepal.

Speaking in Parliament’s development and technology committee, Minister Baskota opined to expand Nepal Telecom 4G gradually to all parts of the country while working on to bring 5G in Nepal in next 5 years. The committee also directed him to submit the details of work to increase the coverage of 4G.

Although 5G seems too far as 4G is still not available everywhere, Nepal needs to work to plan now to launch 5G in some years. The regulator NTA also needs to put policies in place, including the frequency spectrum band for 5G.

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