ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

BT simplifies broadband plans, ups speed

Good news from Bhutan Telecom: The basic Nu 399 broadband plan's "circuit bandwidth" has just doubled from 256 Kbps to 512 kbps.

The previous 256 Kbps plans- there were two of them - have been eliminated, so there are now a total of three plans instead of five: 512 Kbps ("Home"), 1 Mbps ("Office"), and 2 Mbps ("Enterprise"). See table below. The postpaid plans have also been updated.

Package Name
Circuit Bandwidth
Tariff (Nn)
Data Limit
Up to 512 Kbps
2.5 GB
30 days
Up to 1 Mbps
9.0 GB
30 days
Up to 2 Mbps
15.0 GB
30 days
The new prepaid broadband plans

The trend is positive: More bandwidth for the same price. If things work out nicely, it's a win-win situations for both consumers and BT. On the one hand, users will be able to download songs in half the time, and in general enjoy a smoother web surfing experience. Bhutan Telecom, on the other hand, should see an increase in revenues, as Nu 399 still gives you the same 2.5 GB, but with faster access consumers are bound to spend it more quickly.

My main concern is whether there is enough international capacity to avoid customer frustration. With most broadband users subscribing to the Nu 399 package, this means that the load that these users generate will increase. Since most Internet traffic is international, the load on the international lines is also bound to increase, and that will remain the bottleneck. Without a corresponding increase in international capacity, the lines may clog down.

One thing's for sure: It will be interesting to see how this change will affect Bhutan's ranking in the Download Index.

PS: Bhutan Telecom did a great job of disseminating this information. A coordinated announcement on the webpage, a tweet, and a Facebook status update.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mobile data plans (K2 #17)

Question of the Week
I want to connect to the Internet using the mobile network. Which package should I choose?
-- Dorji, Haa

More and more people in Bhutan use their phones to connect to the Internet. Both mobile operators (Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell) offer a few data schemes, and selecting the appropriate one can be confusing. I summarized the best options in the following table, and I'll also share a few tips on selecting the one that's right for you.

OptionCost (Nu.)Notes
Pay-per-use3 per MB (B-Mobile)1
10 per MB (TashiCell)1
Postpaid and Prepaid
"Lite" Package (B-Mobile only)149 / Month for first 300 MB
0.3 per extra MB
Postpaid only
Unlimited Package777 / Month (TashiCell)
999 / Month (B-Mobile)
Postpaid only
(1) Rates are rounded to the nearest Nu

If your usage is occasional - a few emails or Facebook chats here and there - go for pay-per-use. There are no recurring fees and you'll never be charged if you don't use data. With prepaid, you can easily control your expenses. If you are a postpaid customer, however, you might sometimes be shocked by the monthly bill, so use your phone's data counter to avoid surprises. The rates are Nu. 3 per MB for B-Mobile and Nu. 10 per MB for TashiCell. This is the option that will fit most customers.

At the other extreme are the unlimited packages, available only for postpaid customers and usually appropriate for "heavy users". TashiCell charges a lucky Nu. 777 per month for unlimited usage. If you use more than 75MB/month, it makes sense to opt for this package, as that's the break-even point compared to their pay-per-use rates.

For B-Mobile's unlimited package you'll have to shell out Nu. 999 per month. However, most B-Mobile postpaid data customers will want to opt for the "Lite" package. For a very reasonable Nu. 149 per month you get 300 MB, and then only Nu. 0.3 for each additional MB. The only reason to prefer the unlimited package over the "Lite" is if you use more than 3 GB monthly. If that's the case, consider checking into the nearest Internet rehab centre...

Note that B-Mobile also offers two other packages - "Easy" and "Supreme" - but according to my calculations, not only do they offer no benefit over the "Lite" package, but you might actually find yourself worse off if you select them. If you are currently subscribed to one of these two packages, save yourself some money by rushing into the nearest B-Mobile office and downgrading your package to "Lite".

Two more factors to consider when choosing a provider are speed and coverage. While both networks offer either "2G" or the faster "2.5G" in their area of operation, Bhutan Telecom also offers "3G", the fastest technology, but only in Thimphu. Also, make sure that the provider's coverage includes your anticipated location.

Finally, check the online data calculator at where you can estimate your monthly data usage.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Thursday, June 23, 2011

DrukNet-hosted websites are down

A major outage: Websites hosted by DrukNet are currently inaccessible. Examples are and Other .bt sites which are not hosted by DrukNet - for example and most government agencies - are fine.

Most likely: The DrukNet servers have crashed. Let's pray for a quick recovery.

Update: DrukNet sites are now up.

BPC moves to new IT system: double-check this month's bill

The other day we received the BPC monthly bill. The amount seemed a bit high, so I looked more carefully and discovered an "outstanding payment" for last month plus a penalty. Luckily, I remembered that I did pay last month's bill and even had the receipt. Going to BPC I learned that the error is not just in our bill, but in many people's bills. Apparently BPC moved to a new IT system which caused some glitches.

So: check this month's bill carefully. If you can't find last month's receipt (and you did pay!), you'll have to ask BPC's IT division to pull it from their system.

By the way - I tried to look up BPC's website for a notice (their website is extremely slow to load) but found nothing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Village renames itself nagar

Shiv nagar, a village in Uttar Pradesh, recently renamed itself nagar after being adopted by an internet company. More here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bhutan broadband is slowest in the world

Bhutan is famous for its relaxed pace of life. Apparently, this is also true when it comes to Internet speeds. According to the Household Download and Household Upload Indexes, consumer broadband speeds in Bhutan are the slowest in the world. The average download speed in Bhutan is 0.14 Mbps, and the average upload speed is 0.06 Mbps, placing Bhutan at the bottom rank of 172 countries.

The average across all countries is 9.05 Mbps and 3.21 Mbps, respectively. The leader is South Korea, with incredibly fast download and upload speeds of 32.93 Mbps and 24.09 Mbps, respectively.

Bhutan vs. Bolivia: The other "Other Final"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Convincing ad?

The re-introduction of the Pentavalent vaccination has been widely covered by the media and the importance of vaccinating babies widely promoted through ads, campaigns, and articles. Good PR for the vaccination is highly needed in light of its first round history.

With this in mind, I was flabbergasted to see the ad posted (by who?)  in Friday's Business Bhutan. In it, 5 babies appear to be skewered on a long needle with a blood drop at its end! Ya lama! What was the graphic designer thinking?

Posted in Business Bhutan, June 23, 2011

I'll also comment about the Immunization Schedule table on the left side of the ad, which is completely unreadable even in the print newspaper. So where can one get this information?

I searched the Ministry of Health's website, and the JDW National Referral Hospital's website but found nothing. For parents who are interested in immunization schedules, here's the schedule in the USA. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in the US also has a good website with relevant vaccination information.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Creating PDFs (K2 #16)

Question of the Week
How to convert my document to PDF?
-- Sangay Phurpa, Bank of Bhutan, Haa

First, a short introduction to PDF, for the uninitiated: PDF is an extremely popular computer file format used to display and print documents. One of the advantages of PDF is that the document looks the same on the computer monitor and when printed. Displaying and printing a PDF file can be done using a PDF viewer. The most popular PDF viewer is Adobe Reader, which you can download from

People often convert documents into a PDF file before sharing them with others. Since PDF is so popular, it can be read on almost any computer or smartphone. For example, let's say you have a Microsoft Word document and you want to send it to a friend, but she doesn't have Word installed on her computer. Or perhaps she wants to read it on her smartphone, which doesn't have Microsoft Office. In both cases, a PDF file would solve the problem. Also, this would make sure that she views the document in exactly the same way you intended. This is unlike a Word document, where your friend might change the fonts, page size, or even the content of your document. PDF is useful when you want to prevent recipients from altering your document.

Now back to the question: How to convert a document to PDF? Let's look at three solutions, starting with the easiest. If you happen to use Microsoft Office 2010, it already includes a built-in converter to PDF. After opening a file in any of the Office applications (Word, Excel, or PowerPoint), you can convert it to PDF by selecting File, Save As, and then select PDF in the "Save as type" drop-down menu. Finally click Save. The application will then create a PDF version of the document.

Office 2007 users don't have a built-in PDF converter, but luckily Microsoft offers an Office add-in which will add a Save as PDF option to the Office applications. You can download this free add-in at

Most other software applications (including the Office 2003 suite) don't have a Save as PDF option. Do not despair. An incredible piece of software will come to the rescue. This software is called CutePDF Writer - and it is definitely cute! Once installed (just follow the instructions at, a new "printer" called CutePDF Writer will be added to your computer. This new printer will appear in the list of printers when you select "Print..." in any Windows application, but it's not a real printer! To convert any file you have open on your computer, print it selecting CutePDF as your printer, and your document will be magically saved as a PDF file. Mission accomplished.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Keep the pie for birthdays

Today's Kuensel's front page article reported the 2010 land cover assessment statistics. These statistics are important: according to the Kuensel article, they are "used for planning and monitoring of land based resources by agencies like the GNHC and NSB".

Charts are excellent for communicating such statistics. However, creating effective graphs is not simple. The Kuensel chart showing the land coverage by type of land looks like this:

Chart from Kuensel newspaper, June 8, 2011

What exactly can we learn from this graph? Clearly there is one big blue slice that with some effort we can map to "Forest". But what about the others? Try taking this quiz:
  1. What is the green slice? (you have 3 seconds)
  2. Can you quickly compare Meadows with Snow Cover?
  3. What do the numbers mean?
  4. What is the third largest type of land?
  5. What is the smallest type of land?
Let's see a more effective plot using the same data (and the same software -- I am using Microsoft Excel, the same software used to produce the Kuensel graph):

A more effective chart of the same data (using the same software)

Now try that quiz again! Of course, there is no green slice anymore. We can easily see how "Forest" is by far the largest, we can also easily see that "Snow cover" is the third largest. And Non-built up areas is the smallest. We can also more easily compare the different types of land to each other.

Here are a few guidelines for creating an effective plot for percentages:
  1. Avoid pie charts! They are known to be ineffective communicators. Bar charts almost always convey the information in a clearer and less misleading way
  2. Include informative labels: the Kuensel chart does not have any title, no % sign (maybe those numbers convey squared km?)
  3. Avoid 3D charts -- in this case the third dimension is only confusing.
    Creating effective charts is an important skill, especially in journalism. Charts should be effective, not "artistic".

    Here's a cool site by Stephen Few that shows examples of poor charts. Click on each to see a quick analysis and an example of a good chart for the same data. An excellent book by the same person is Show me the Numbers. You can view part of the book using Amazon's Look Inside, and you are welcome to come and browse my copy.

    A final challenge: can you create a better chart for each of the two charts from today's article "Cash in banks come from corporations" shown below? (hint: use the 3 tips and think "effective", not "artistic").

    How to convey the information from this pie chart more effectively?

    How to improve this bar chart so that readers more easily grasp the story?

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Pyramids and weight loss

    I recently received a flyer in downtown Thimphu advertising the high-cost weight-loss food supplement Herbalife as promoting GNH:
    If a country's citizens are more Obesity/Overweight and Underweight the Country will remain always bankrupt, hence can never achieved GNH
    To see how happiness is involved, let me consider the two types of people involved in the Herbalife plan: customers who use the product to lose weight, and distributors who sell the product to make money.

    From a customer's perspective, I'd ask myself whether the product really helps reduce weight and whether any risks are involved. The flyer or the Herbalife website are clearly giving one side of it. From a search online I found that scientifically, Herbalife has been shown to be no better than a placebo (as found in two clinical studies).  I also discovered that there have been several accusations of Herbalife containing toxic components, and especially lead, but that there is no conclusive evidence. By the way, turns out that the founder of Herbalife, Mark Hughes, died at age 44 of an accidental overdose of alcohol and doxepin, an anti-depressant. My own GNH approach to maintaining healthy weight is doing some exercise, cutting out the junk food, and not obsessing with my weight.

    From a business perspective, Herbalife uses "pyramid marketing", which means that you buy a stock of the (very expensive) products, then sell it to your friends, who sell it to their friends, etc. On each sale, a cut is given to people higher in the pyramid, such that the person at the top of the pyramid makes a fortune, and the people at the bottom much less if at all... See the very prominent "Business Opportunity" section of the website. 20 years ago in Israel, I remember that meeting a friend sometimes involved the friend trying hard to sell you Herbalife in order to get rid of the expensive stock that s/he purchased. Most of these friends ended up in serious debt (is this really GNH?)

    Here is what Wikipedia has to say about pyramid marketing schemes:
    "The secret of our camels is Herbalife"
    "[pyramid marketing] companies have been a frequent subject of criticism as well as the target of lawsuits. Criticism has focused on their similarity to illegal pyramid schemes, price-fixing of products, high initial start-up costs, emphasis on recruitment of lower-tiered salespeople over actual sales, encouraging if not requiring salespeople to purchase and use the company's products, potential exploitation of personal relationships which are used as new sales and recruiting targets, complex and sometimes exaggerated compensation schemes, and cult-like techniques which some groups use to enhance their members' enthusiasm and devotion."
    In terms of GNH, it seems like pyramid marketing is not one of the pillars.