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.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Roaming in Bhutan (K2 #57)

Question of the Week
I will be volunteering in Bhutan in the spring. Will I be able to use my Samsung Galaxy S II phone there? Do I need to get a local SIM or can I use my Vodafone SIM?
— Emma, New Zealand

Before travelling to Bhutan, make sure that your phone’s hardware is compatible: In your case, Samsung Galaxy S II supports all four major GSM frequencies (850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz), and these cover the GSM frequencies used in Bhutan (900 and 1800 MHz). Cheers!

To keep using your New Zealand number, check if your mobile operator has a roaming agreement with a Bhutanese mobile operator. Roaming will enable you to keep making and receiving calls using your local NZ number. Information about roaming is available on your operator’s website. I checked the Vodafone website, and they have a roaming agreement with TashiCell, one of Bhutan’s two operators. This means that whenever you are in a TashiCell-covered area, you will be able to make and accept calls using your NZ number.
Mobile counters at Paro airport?

I recently visited Sri Lanka. Getting a local SIM was a snap: all the major mobile operators have shrewdly set up friendly counters in the Colombo airport arrival hall, staffed with efficient representatives who quickly arrange everything, including taking your passport photo. Within 10 minutes and a wallet lighter by the equivalent of Nu. 150, I was all set with a prepaid SIM, which included 100 mobile minutes, 200 SMSs, and 1GB of 3G data. Unfortunately, a similar service is not (yet?) available at Paro airport.

The downside of roaming is that the rates of making and receiving calls - even local calls in Bhutan - as well as SMSing and using data, are absurdly expensive. Vodafone, for example, charges up to NZ$6 per minute. Upon returning home, roaming users often experience an unpleasant shock when receiving their mobile bill.

The alternative to roaming is buying a local SIM with a Bhutanese number. Just make sure that your phone is unlocked, which means it can work with any SIM, not only your Vodafone SIM. With an unlocked phone, simply remove your Vodafone SIM and insert the local SIM. Your sponsor in Bhutan can help you get a local SIM, or you can visit a B-Mobile or TashiCell office. Both operators have coverage in all of Bhutan’s 20 districts. SIMs are dirt-cheap and calling rates are low. A local minute to anywhere in Bhutan will cost you less than NZ$0.10, while calls back home to the land of kiwis will set you back around NZ$0.40 per minute.

Enjoy your visit to the Kingdom!

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