Afterword

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, 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

Answer
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 gsmarena.com, 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 boaz@thimphutech.com