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, October 31, 2013

Does the Samsung Galaxy Grand support 3G?

Following my last K2 column, I got a lot of queries regarding the highly-rated, relatively affordable Samsumg Galaxy Grand smartphone: Will it support 3G in Bhutan?

Well, if we look up the phone's specification on, we'll find the following (the snapshot is from the Samsung Galaxy Grand Duos I9082 (dual-SIM) version; the I9080 (single SIM) 3G specs are identical):

Looking carefully, one sees two different specs for the 3G network bands: the first line shows 850/1900/2100, the second has 900/1900/2100.

From the research I've done, the reason is simple: Samsung has released two Galaxy Grand variants. One version is mainly for the Asian & European market (900/1900/2100) market, the other mainly for the US market (850/1900/2100).

The bands used for 3G in Bhutan are 850 and 2100. While all 3G phones sold in India support 2100, most of these phones do not support 850, as India uses 900 and 2100. If you got your Galaxy Grand in India, it will NOT support 850 3G in Bhutan.

The phone's packaging will show the exact bands supported, as you can see below. In this case, the phone supports 900, but not 850 - so it will NOT support 3G in Thimphu and and a few other locations in Bhutan.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

3G Phones (K2 #73)

Question of the Week 
Will the new Micromax Canvas 4 phone support 3G in Thimphu?
— Namgay Rinchen, JDWNRH

Dear Namgay,

The Canvas 4 is the best Micromax yet,
but no 3G in Thimphu for you!
Had you asked me this question a year ago, my answer would have been an earsplitting “yes”. But today, surprisingly, the answer is a painful “no”. Let’s see why. As people cannot even reach a consensus on paper size (A4 vs. Letter), it won’t come as a complete shock that four different 3G bands are used around the world. The most popular is 2100 MHz. The other three are 1900, 900, and 850 MHz. Most phones support the popular 2100 band, and often support one or more of the other three.

Once upon a time in the Kingdom, the only band used for 3G was 2100, and this meant that 3G phones as well as 3G data cards (and their owners) were kept happy. Then, in November 2012, Bhutan Telecom decided to change the band used for 3G in Thimphu to 850. This was done to improve reception in urban areas (the lower the frequency, the better the signal penetrates buildings). But it also meant that many existing phones and data cards that did not support the 850 band were suddenly rendered useless, and their owners became quite unhappy. I found this move baffling, as telecoms and other utility companies are commonly required – and usually make a special effort – to ensure that their upgraded systems will be compatible with existing equipment used by customers. Imagine BPC suddenly changing the voltage to 110V! In the case of Bhutan Telecom, they could have perhaps kept the old band (2100) alongside the new one (850) in order to ensure that their users’ investment will not be lost. But all that is ancient history. Currently, Thimphu (as well as Bajothang, according to a BT representative) use the 850 band, while other locations in the country that support 3G use the 2100 band.

Oops! 3G on the Micromax Canvas 4 can only operate on 2100.

To check whether a phone will support 3G in Thimphu, you need to verify that it supports the 3G 850 band (this is different from the 2G 850 band). You can look for the information on the phone manufacturer’s website. Or use, a very popular phone comparison website: Select the phone manufacturer on the left bar. Then, click on your desired phone and see whether the 850 band appears under “3G Network”. As you can see in the attached screenshot, the Canvas 4 supports 2100, but not 850. Thus, the Canvas 4 will work in many 3G locations, but not in Thimphu. Unfortunately for Micromax, TashiCell’s upcoming 3G network will also be using the 850 band, and thus the fate of the Canvas 4 phone in Bhutan has been sealed.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is Bhutan ready for 4G? A few issues related to the upcoming LTE launch

"And I have promises to keep..."
B-Mobile is launching LTE tomorrow, October 24. LTE is a fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband technology. According to the launch announcement, it will be available in selected parts of Thimphu (Ministers' Enclave, Dzong, Norzin Lam, and a few other areas). To use LTE, you will need a mobile handset (or data card) that supports the new technology.

While keeping up with the latest technologies is nifty, a few issues related to this new launch come to mind.


Surprising, the expected download speed is not mentioned in B-Mobile's launch announcement. A promotional ad that I found on BT's Facebook page promises "4 times faster than 3G, 10 times faster than home broadband!". Yet, an older announcement that can be found on BT's website talks about 35-40 Mbps. Here is a summary of this information:

LTE Speed is ...... according to this source
20 Mbps"10 times faster than home broadband" (maximum broadband speed is 2 Mbps)
35-40 MbpsAnnouncement
84 Mbps"4 times faster than 3G" (maximum broadband speed is 21 Mbps)

So what speed is LTE in Bhutan going to support? Your guess is as good as mine. In any case, this is only the theoretical maximum speed. What the actual speed will be is anyone's guess. For example, the 3G download speed mentioned on BT's website is a cool 21 Mbps. I have never been able to come even close to that speed.


BT's LTE is expensive for customers. First, you will need a special LTE SIM, which is Nu 500. Granted, this includes Nu 500 worth of data, which you'll have to use within a week. It's not clear why you need to hurry up and use that data so quickly.

Over and above the one-time SIM investment, there is of course the recurring cost of data. The price per KB for LTE is Nu 0.001, which translates into Nu 1048/GB. That's "10 times more expensive than home broadband, and 3 times more expensive than 3G!". Compare that to LTE in India, which costs the same as 3G, and as little as Rs 50/GB.

More troubling is the question of payment when your LTE phone is out of the LTE coverage zones, and then falls back to using 3G, or even worse, EDGE or GPRS. Do you still pay the subscription prepaid rate of Nu 1048/GB, or will you be charged according to the much cheaper 3G tariff? In other words, does BT keep a separate account for data usage for each of the technologies? This is not clear and I could not find any information about this issue on the website.


About a year ago, B-Mobile switched the frequency of 3G in Thimphu from 2100 MHz to 850 MHz, as the lower frequency offers better reception in buildings. In general, frequencies in the 2000 MHz range cannot penetrate buildings very well. The new LTE band to be used in Thimphu is 1800 MHz, which is again not optimal for urban areas. LTE can also support lower frequencies such as 700, 800, 850 and 900 MHz, which offer superior reception in buildings. I am not sure why LTE in Thimphu will be using the higher frequency of 1800 MHz; there might be a hidden technical issue that I'm not aware of. Otherwise, should we expect another change of frequency, as was the case with 3G?

User Equipment

LTE requires LTE-compatible handsets that support this standard. They tend to be expensive, and not easy to procure, especially in India. My guesstimate is that at least 99% of smartphones in Bhutan do not support LTE.

For example, the popular Samsung Galaxy S III (GT-I9300) does not support LTE (contrary to what's mentioned in the Kuensel article). The Samsung S III LTE, which is a different variant (GT-I9305), does support LTE, but it is generally not available for purchase in India.

Another example is the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5's US/Canada edition (A1428) does support LTE, but not the 1800 band, so this phone will not be able to use 4G in Bhutan.

Does Bhutan need 4G?

Aside from all these issues, the key question is: why now? Who will benefit from the deployment of LTE at this point in time?

LTE is a new technology. Although it has various advantages compared to 3G (and will eventually supercede it), many of these benefits do not play off in Bhutan. For example, LTE offers better handling of fast-moving mobile phones (up to 500 km/hour). I don't see that as a useful feature in Bhutan until we get our first bullet train. It also offers advantages in highly-congested metropolitan areas. Again, not very applicable for Bhutanese towns.

In contrast, 3G and its 3.5G derivatives, such as HSPA and HSPA+ (with a theoretical download speed of up to 168 Mbps) are mature technologies which are backward-compatible with 2G. 3G uses cheaper telecom equipment, cheaper handsets, and when deployed correctly, can provide adequate mobile broadband for Bhutan's needs in the foreseeable future.

Relative growth of 1G/2G/3G/4G users worldwide
shows greatest increase in 3G (apologies for the 3D bar-chart)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bhutan's Twitter growth in the last 12 months

Twitter in Bhutan is growing. Check out the following chart, which shows the change in the number of followers for some of Bhutan's most popular Twitter accounts. Order is alphabetical. Note: hover your mouse over a user to compare the number of followers in the last 12 months.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Moody Broadband

Lately, many people I talk to have been complaining about deteriorating broadband speed. Some have even said that they often find 3G faster than broadband! My broadband connection at home too has been giving me trouble this weekend; it's not the first time that it has slowed down to an almost complete halt. Calling the support line at 1600 has proven to be futile, as the representative has insufficient technical knowledge and the blame is often put at the customers' equipment ("try to reboot the computer").

So, I decided to check what's going on.

Last evening, I started investigating. First, I used a Windows utility called tracert to find the route between my home and The utility shows the list of intermediate hosts between my computer and

My home is shown in the first line (, and is the 4th and last line ( In between are two intermediate hosts that forward the information to the final destination. The host my home is directly connected to is shown on the second line,, and is a DrukNet router.

Once I got that one figured out, I continued to the next step: ping. Ping is a useful little utility available on Windows, which measures the round-trip time between my computer and any other host on the Internet. I used it to check the round-trip time to the DrukNet host closest to my modem, By running ping with the '-n 50' option, it sends 50 packets to the destination host and then measures the round-trip times. Here are the results:

The ping utility shows a serious problem. The round-trip time - which is supposed to be less than 50ms, shows numbers ranging from 23ms (good) to 3808ms, which is almost 4 seconds. That's unreasonable. That's more time than is needed for an Internet packet to travel to the moon and back. The 4% error loss to the nearby is also an indicator of serious trouble.

Usually, this issue is a result of oversubscribing: letting too many users share the same pipe. Another option is faulty equipment. (It can also be a result of a bad subscriber line, but this was ruled out as the modem shows excellent line conditions.)

This morning at around 9:30am, I tried my ping test again. Surprise! Everything's back to normal:

My guess: Someone at DrukNet reset the faulty equipment. From my experience, this behaviour will repeat itself occasionally until DrukNet cuts to the bottom of the problem.

If you share a similar experience, kindly post your comment.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Facebook edits (K2 #72)

Question of the Week
I just noticed that I made a mistake in a Facebook status that I wrote. Can I fix it or is it there forever?
— Chimi, housewife in Thimphu

Dear Chimi,

You’re in luck! Up until recently, there was no way to edit posts. While comments to a post could be edited, Facebook did not allow editing the posts themselves. So once you updated your status, there was no way to fix any errors or add information to your status. The only way out of a mistake would be to delete a post, but that would also delete all the witty comments and all those precious “likes” that your post accumulated. Users therefore often decided to keep the post and live with the embarrassment.

A couple of weeks ago, however, Facebook made the change that many users have been waiting for. You can now edit any post, from the browser or from the Facebook app on Android. The Facebook app for iOS will have this feature “soon”. Your guess about “soon” is as good as mine.

To edit a post from your browser, hover the mouse above the post. You will see a small icon of a pencil or arrow at the top-right side of the post. Click on the icon, then select ‘Edit’ or ‘Edit Post’. You will then be able to edit the post - add, delete, and change text - to your liking. Once you’re finished, click on ‘Done Editing’. The post will now show a small link with the title ‘Edited’. When you (or anyone else who can view the post) clicks that link, the complete version history of the post will be shown. This means that savvy users can still find your original mistake if they look really hard...

Similarly, from the Android app, click on the small arrow at the top-right side of the post, then select ‘Edit Post’. Make your desired change, then click on ‘Save’. That’s it.

Some users fear that editing a post can cause trouble. For example, say you leave a comment on a post that your friend wrote. Later, your friend edits the original post in a way that makes your comment look irrelevant, or even foolish. Still, the advantages are probably worth that risk. Or at least, Facebook seems to think so.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Friday, October 11, 2013

Think About Your Customers

When you design a website, think about your visitors and how they going to use your website. Too often, webmasters do not put themselves in the position of the people who are going to use their websites.

Here's an example. The BBS website has two editions: English and Dzongkha. Toward the top of each page there are two links that allow you to switch editions.

Say a visitor speaks only English, but happens to land on a Dzongkha news page. Where does she click to escape into the English site? Everything's in Dzongkha, even the link to the English edition. That's not a good idea.

Here is the website as it looks today:

Uh? What do I  click now?

Here is a more usable version. Notice the difference?


The same issue also exists in the English version. There's a link to the Dzongkha edition, but it's in English.