Thursday 9 March 2023

Nepal is Taking Right Steps in Direction of 5G

Unfortunately Nepal's telecom sector has several topographical and economic constraints which have impeded efforts to expand network infrastructure and improve the quality of service for end-users.

The fixed line market remains underdeveloped, and as a result most traffic is channelled via mobile networks. Fixed broadband penetration remains very low, though to address this the government has initiated several programs as part of the Digital Nepal Framework and the wider Optical Fibre Backbone Network Expansion Project, started in 2012. Supported by the Rural Telecommunications Development Fund, the programs include building out fibre backbone infrastructure and using this to provide broadband to schools and community centres nationally.

Operators have also invested in fibre networks, and competition in the market is intensifying. Cheap fibre-based services launched by CG Net in mid-2021 prompted responses from other ISPs to provide faster and more competitively priced offers.

Nepal’s mobile market is relatively developed, with a focus on LTE. In 2021, the regulator considered a range of spectrum bands which could be used for 5G.

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 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 has been launched by all three providers in 2017. Due to 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. 

NTC uses 900 Mhz for 2G and 2100 Mhz for 3G. Simultaneously, 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, Bhaktapur, 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 and it has 4G coverage at these locations.

Nepal Telecom has a total of 18.95 million mobile broadband users where 7.26 million are 3G users, 11.55 million are 4G users and 136,573 are EVDO users. Just last year Nepal Telecom (NT) marked its 18th anniversary by announcing the commercial launch of VoLTE services, enabling customers with a compatible handset to enjoy high definition voice calling over its 4G network and simultaneous use of voice and high speed data services.

Nepal Telecom had originally planned to kick off 5G trials in mid-July 2021, but the timetable was delayed after a change of government prevented assignment of the additional spectrum resources required. Having finally been granted a testing permit and 60MHz of frequencies in the 2600MHz band the following November, NT then encountered further problems with equipment delivery, while plans to finally start the trial last month were thwarted by the extremely low number of compatible devices. The operator intends to launch test networks in all seven provinces of the country by the end of its current financial year (mid-July 2023).

Ncell is the no.2 in Nepal with a total of 8.88 million mobile broadband users where 1.93 million are 3G users and 6.95 million are 4G users.

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.

In September 2022 they announced the commercial launch of their VoLTE service, providing customers with superior quality HD voice and faster call connectivity. The new service is activated free of charge and is currently available on selected Samsung, Vivo and Huawei handsets. Customers enabling the service will receive 100 bonus minutes of on-net talk time valid for 28 days. Launched in June 2017, Ncell’s LTE network has been expanded to areas of more than 70 districts and now covers approximately 85% of the country’s population.

Smart Telecom is the third telecom operator in the country, they only has 2G and 4G services in its Smart Cell brand. They have a total of 127,551 subscribers to their 4G service.

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.

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