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Bhutan - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

  • September 2016
  • -
  • Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd
  • -
  • 31 pages

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Bhutan's fixed broadband market gains momentum
The mobile market in Bhutan has grown moderately over the past few years. The mobile subscriber growth rate was a very strong 14% 2014, however it was at a slower 5% and 2% in 2015 and 2016 respectively as the market begins to mature. Penetration reached 88% in 2016. Further moderate growth is also predicted over the next five years to 2021.

Over this period the annual growth in mobile subscribers has reached in excess of 100% at times. Most significantly the mobile networks have provided a major boost to internet access in the country, largely on the back of EDGE/GPRS and more recently 3G technology platforms. It was not always like this. Bhutan had been isolated from the rest of the world for a long time both generally, and particularly in terms of its telecommunications. Its mountainous landscape made it especially difficult to build the necessary telecoms infrastructure.

The number of fixed telephone lines in Bhutan is gradually declining from a relatively small base as the mobile segment continues to expand. Overall penetration dropped from 3.1% in 2014 to 2.9% in 2015 and 2.7% in 2016.

Bhutan came late to the internet. Development continued down a slow path, as the country embraced online activity cautiously. In fact the internet penetration continues to be disconcertingly low for a country trying to lift itself up economically. However, this was compensated by a new booming mobile internet/broadband market.

Fixed broadband penetration in Bhutan is increasing moderately from a relatively small base. Penetration increased from 2.3% in 2012 to 3.1% in 2014 and nearly 4% in 2016. Fixed broadband penetration is predicted to grow strongly over the next five years to 2021.

The regulator awarded a second national mobile licence to local industrial conglomerate, the Tashi Group, in late 2006. The licence conditions required Tashi to launch a commercial service within one year. TashiCell eventually began operations in early 2008, providing the competition sought by the regulator. Tashi held a 30% share of the mobile subscriber base in 2016.

Key developments:

Bhutan Telecom has reconfigured its 3G network in Gelephu to use 850MHz spectrum, rather than the 2100MHz frequencies previously utilised
Bhutan's telecom sector has been continuing on a steady development path;
Initially driven by positive growth in its mobile market, this has shifted to growth in internet access in its various forms;
With the success of the mobile network, fixed-line subscriber numbers have eased downwards over the last few years;
The country has been moving steadily towards a democratic system of government; the hope was that this would start to bring significant structural reform to all sectors of the economy;



Companies mentioned in this report
Bhutan Telecom, B-Mobile, DrukNet, Samden Tech, Tashi InfoComm, TashiCell, Ericsson, Reliance, Airtel.

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