NT's 4G expansion likely to gather pace soon

Kathmandu, October 31

Nepal Telecom's plan to expand 4G service throughout the country is likely to gather pace soon, as the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), which had previously directed the parent body of the state-owned telecom company to halt the process, has given a green signal to resume the stalled work.

NT introduced 4G, also known as Long-Term Evolution (LTE), in January 2017, becoming the first telecom company in Nepal to roll out the service. But it has not been able to expand the service beyond Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara, as the CIAA, the corruption watchdog, launched a probe into the 4G equipment procurement process in February suspecting financial irregularities.

The CIAA's intervention has put the company behind Ncell in 4G expansion. Ncell, a private telecom company, which had launched 4G almost after five months after NT, has expanded the service to more than two dozen cities across Nepal.

A month ago, Minister for Communication and Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota had blamed the CIAA for the delay in expansion of NT's 4G service.

“We are hoping that NT's 4G expansion will finally move ahead as the CIAA has recently directed the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MoCIT), NT's parent body, to take necessary legal decisions to expedite the roll out,” said MoCIT Spokesperson Ramchandra Dhakal. The CIAA, however, has not scrapped the case related to financial irregularities in 4G equipment procurement process.

Before the CIAA launched its investigation, NT had invited bids from international companies to expand 4G service across the country. At that time it had issued two separate tender notices for procurement of base transceiver stations and the core network to facilitate 4G transmission. Although various international firms had submitted bids, the process of handing over contracts was stalled due to the CIAA probe.

“We will soon decide on whether to accept bids based on tender notice issued in the past or publish a new one,” said Dhakal.

Although the ministry is upbeat about NT's 4G expansion, there are doubts whether the work would move ahead smoothly, as the top post of the state-owned telecom company has remained vacant for one-and-a-half months.

“Fulfilling the vacant post of the managing director is crucial to give momentum to NT's expansion plan,” said Dhakal. “We will soon fill the post through open competition.” The government had removed the then managing director of NT, Kamini Rajbhandari, from the post on August 14 citing weak performance.

There are around 1.86 million 4G subscribers in Nepal. Of these, 1.19 million are using Ncell's service, 621,023 have subscribed to NT's service and 43,887 are using Smart Telecom's service.