Optical fibre laying process likely to face delays

Kathmandu, April 24

The government’s plan to expand optical fibre across all districts, rural municipalities, municipalities, schools and health centres is likely to face delays as the different telecom operators entrusted to carry out the task are struggling to meet the set deadlines.

As per the plan to implement the East-West Optical Fibre Network — which is also known as Mid-Hill Highway Optical Fibre Project — Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) had signed an agreement with Nepal Telecom (NT) in September 2016 to lay the fibre network in Provinces 1, 2 and 3; with UTL in April 2017 to lay the fibre network in Provinces 4 and 5; and with SmartCell in September 2017 to lay the fibre network in Provinces 6 (Karnali) and 7.

While NT’s deadline is expiring in September this year, UTL has until April of 2019 and SmartCell has until September of next year to complete the sections of the project assigned to them.

Nepal Telecom (NT) has claimed that it is on track to meet the set deadline as it has completed more than 70 per cent of the works. “We had to cancel our first tender for optical fibre due to some technical difficulties and now we are in the process of shortlisting the eligible candidates based on the response to the retender,” said Shovan Adhikari, deputy spokesperson for NT.

He added the bidding works of the project will be completed in less than a month and NT has already completed detailed site survey of the project.

Adhikari informed that since NT has already procured the active equipment and completed the microwave bidding process, the company will certainly finish laying the optical fibre network, core fibre and microwave equipment within the timeframe.

Adhikari dismissed the rumours about NT facing delays as ‘hearsay’ and claimed that the company will hand over the project to NTA within the next six months.

NT has bagged the contract to lay the optical fibre network in 32 districts or 2,376 kilometres along the Mid-Hill Highway. NTA is bearing entire cost of the project — estimated at Rs 4.88 billion — through Rural Telecommunication Development Fund (RTDF).

Meanwhile, UTL and SmartCell have already submitted survey report of the provinces assigned to them, but are yet to begin the process of laying the optical fibre. The cost of covering the section assigned to UTL is expected to hover around Rs 2.1 billion, while the cost for covering the two provinces assigned to SmartCell is projected to top Rs 3.94 billion.

Meanwhile, NTA has said that it is closely monitoring the progress being made in the Mid-Hill Highway Optical Fibre Project.

Both UTL and SmartCell just received the right of way to lay the optical fibre from the Department of Roads. “We will soon sign a memorandum of understanding with NTA to start the process of laying the optical fibre,” said Damodar Neupane, an official of SmartCell.

However, NTA officials are not too optimistic about the telecom firms being able to complete the assigned tasks on time. “Judging by the progress so far, we strongly doubt that the telecom companies will be able to meet the deadline,” said Min Prasad Aryal, spokesperson for NTA. “If they cross the deadline, apart from hefty fine according to the law, the amount they had deposited as performance guarantee will also be blocked.”