4G in Nepal. Time has finally come after at least 6 years of first announcement of 4G provisioning in the country that Nepal’s cellular mobile operators are finally rolling out 4G services to the customers. 4G in Nepal has always been a tech talk – sometimes addressing it as 4G WiMAX while the other time as 4G LTE. Whatever form of 4G was referred to earlier in the past, 4G in Nepal as we are expecting now is cellular 4G LTE (we are still dubious about VoLTE!) In this article, we explore about 4G in Nepal – everything you need to know about 4G initiations in the country and deployment of the same from Ncell and NTC – the major cellular players. In this article:
Back to 2012 there was a debate on whether Nepal should go for 4th gen cellular LTE or WiMAX. Only two years before that (in 2010) we were told by Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) – the regulator in the country -that Nepal was likely to see WiMAX soon, however it was only until 2012 that customers were allowed to subscribe so-called broadband service from the state owned telco Nepal Telecom.
Customers were until then kept in a shadow zone that WiMAX is 4G or at least advertised that 4G in Nepal has already came and deployed. However, that was merely 4G WiMAX the data side of the broadband communication. Customers even rushed to get handheld smartphones that could support 4G WiMAX – only to their surprise that Nepal Telecom’s 4G was just a broadband for the last-mile connectivity and you needed those wireless Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) to position at the top most part of your residence or building. They are now being used by passenger vehicles in long routes to provide Internet on-the-move.
Time and again, Nepal Telecom (NTC) has been lauded for it’s initiation to be the first operator in South Asia to provide 3G cellular communications. However, on transiting from 1G to LTE Nepal Telecom seemed to lost over 4G WiMAX Data Services.
Though late, WiMAX has finally reached in all 75 districts of the country (PR here) as of October 27, 2016. By reach, we mean that at least district headquarters are ensured to be running WiMAX data service (and in most cases this is used to provide NT WiFi hotspot as well.)
And Dhaulagiri is the zone to receive 3G lately despite large population of cellular data users in the four districts of the zone. Read this archaic article “A Mobile Value-added Services Road Map” of Nepal Telecom that could be equally useful for 4G reach. Nepal Telecom has already received permission to deploy and launch 4G LTE on technology neutral operator in 1800 MHz band from NTA. NTC in the meanwhile plans to launch 4G service initially in metro and sub-metros in the country. However, it’s likely to be available in Kathmandu initially from beginning of 2017. Let’s hope Nepalese (at least Kathmanduties) will be able to see that 4G icon on their smartphone dashboard and surf Internet at much faster speed than what NTC currently supplies from it’s 3G BTSs.
Ncell is also eager to launch 4G services and has requested permissions to provide 4G services in the country. According to NTA, Ncell has already filed for the permission and is pending to receive permission for 4G LTE deployment. To date, Ncell has invested NPR 74 billion in 2G/3G GSM networks as part of its commitment to bring connectivity to the Nepalese consumers. Ncell says – Cutting-edge technology such as 4G/LTE would allow users to experience more advanced features and applications on their mobile devices including video streaming, music, games, and transactions while on the go. Therefore, the company looks forward to imminently receiving the 4G/LTE spectrum from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority in order to serve the community better.
Presently, Ncell delivers data speed of up to 21 Mbps in the Kathmandu Valley and the Everest region. The company plans to gradually modernize its network in other cities out of the Valley as well. Ncell has plans to establish hundreds of sites to reach villages in Nepal (which ultimately will be Village Councils and the operators might be more benefitted!) Ncell presently has 3G data connectivity in 63 districts.
Ncell 4G LTE is already a buzz and slight information is also being shared via Ncell’s social media platforms. Ncell’s customers now can change their 3G SIM cards to 4G Universal SIM cards for free. Plus Ncell 4G SIM card also bring perks to some lucky customers. Let’s hope Ncell 4G LTE will also be available soon and at speed much faster than current 3G speed of 21 Mbps.
Other 4G LTE Efforts in Nepal
Another cellular operator Smart Telecom that runs under the brand Hello Nepal has also expressed its concern to participate in 4G bandwagon in Nepal. Hello Nepal is has not yet provided 3G data and in this condition they can roll out 4G without having to work on 3G cellular architecture.
As of November, Nepal’s cellular handset market is occupied by 60% smartphones of which over 50 percent of smartphones available in Nepal’s domestic market are 4G LTE compatible according to vendors. 4G service can now be found in mid-range smartphones and above. Samsung Nepal have their 4G compatible phones starting from entry-level smartphones costing about Rs 12,000 to flagship devices. Currently only Colors is the Nepali brand mobile phones that has released 4G handsets.
Since 4G LTE Nepal is a technology neutral 1800 MHz availability, meaning currently 3G is available thru the same bandwidth –the current users do not need to change any settings on their phones other than switch that data options to 4G is not already. According to Apple, their latest flagship smartphone iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus support 1800 MHz cellular 4G LTE meaning NTC and Ncell’s 4G service shall run on universal unlocked iPhones as well.
4G LTE Nepal Expectations
Currently there are over 13 million (1 crore 35 lakh) cellular data users which makes around 96% of total Internet users in Nepal – the Internet Penetration being 53.29% as per the latest figures in MIS Report from Nepal Telecom (the government regulator.) In such an economy where majority of Internet population rely on 2G/3G cellular data, to transit them to 4G LTE data services it requires huge infrastructure and customer satisfaction.
Let’s hope 4G LTE will service real data bandwidth benefits as promised to existing and potential data customers in the country – specially NTC will be able to serve 4G like 4G not just like 3G with faster data service at limited locations.