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, November 28, 2013

Bhutan's 3G band: the saga continues

I have written before on the questionable selection of the 850 MHz for use with 3G in Bhutan, instead of the more consumer-friendly 900 MHz which is used in India and other SE Asian countries. Recently, Kuensel reporter Gyaltshen K. Dorji ran a comprehensive story on this topic, An iffy 3G-frequency choice?, in which I was quoted.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

100 Free Units (K2 #75)

Question of the Week 
The government is giving 100 free electricity units to domestic consumers in rural areas. How many appliances can I use for free?
— Tshomo, Dagana

Dear Tshomo,

I think you are right. No one explained what these energy units are and what they can be used for. Let’s take a look at how these units are computed. The story starts with watts. Each electrical appliance has a power rating in watts (named after the famous Scottish inventor James Watt). These ratings are printed on the appliance, often at the back. Watts are often abbreviated simply as W. You can find this number on any item that uses electricity, from light bulbs (ranging from around 20W to 100W) to boilers, water heaters and radiators, which are serious power hogs and can consume up to 3000W.

The amount of energy that an appliance consumes depends on its power ratings and also on how long it’s been turned on. If a 40W power bulb is switched on for two hours, it consumes double the amount of energy compared to a 40W bulb switched on for one hour. To calculate the energy used, you simply multiply the power ratings (in watts) by the time the appliance is working (in hours). The resulting number is the amount of energy units, called - how surprising it that? - watt-hours. For example, say you have a 40W light bulb switched on for a total of 10 hours. It consumed 40W x 10 hours of energy, or 400 watt-hours. Often kilowatt-hours are used instead of watt-hours; one kilowatt-hour is 1000 watt-hours.

Back to electricity units. Each month, domestic users in rural areas will receive 100 units of energy for free. Now here is the trick: Each unit is simply 1 kilowatt-hour (1000 watt-hours). For non-rural domestic users, by the way, the first 100 units are about Nu 1 each (and the next two hundred units are about Nu 2 each for both rural and non-rural consumers). Here are a few examples of typical usage. Let’s start with the ubiquitous mobile phone charger, which uses about 3W. If you charge your phone for two hours, it will use about six watt-hours, which are 0.006 units. If charged daily, this amounts to a total of 0.18 units of energy in a month. Another popular appliance is a rice cooker: A 600W rice cooker working for 20 minutes (⅓ of an hour) will consume 200 watt-hours, or 0.2 units per use. In contrast, a 1000W spiral heater working for 5 hours per day will use 5 units a day, or 150 units a month. To figure out the total units consumed by multiple appliances (mobile charging, rice cooker usage, etc.) simply add up the units.

Time per use
Units per use
Mobile charger
2 hours
Rice cooker
⅓ hour
Light bulb
10 hours
Spiral heater
5 hours

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Broadband use in schools detrimental for grades

Internet is a powerful tool. It has to be managed carefully, especially when it comes to children. It is the opinion of this blog's authors that simply throwing technology at school students - whether it is tablets, OLPCs, or a fast Internet connection - is often not helpful. Even worse, it can have a negative effect on learning and socializing. A recently published paper by three Carnegie-Mellon University researchers examined the relationship between broadband use in Portugal's schools, and student performance. The results are loud and clear:
high levels of broadband use in schools were detrimental for grades on the ninth-grade national exams in Portugal. For the average broadband use in schools, grades reduced 0.78 of a standard deviation from 2005 to 2009. We also show that broadband has a negative impact on exam scores regardless of gender, subject, or school quality and that the way schools allow students to use the Internet affects their performance. In particular, students in schools that block access to websites such as YouTube perform relatively better.
The paper was published in Management Science, a top research journal. It can be downloaded here for a fee. Alternatively, you can download the free working paper.

What about broadband for schools in Bhutan? Follow the discussion or leave a comment on the Sherig Collection thread (registration required).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Transit to Bhutan via Delhi - a new solution

Our post with tips on Transit to/from Bhutan via Delhi airport has attracted quite a bit of attention.

We've just learned of a new possibility to avoid waiting in the transit area at Delhi airport, and obtaining the Druk Air boarding pass even when the Druk Air counter is closed. According to a recent announcement by the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators, passengers can email their details (passenger name, flight number and flight time) to and Once you reach Delhi, the boarding pass should be waiting at the transit desk, allowing you to go into the gates (and lounge) area.

We haven't tested this solution - if you have, please share your experience.

Now, we only hope that this service is extended to transit in Bangkok, where the Druk Air counter opens only 2.5 hours prior to the flight. Obtaining the boarding pass earlier would be helpful to business class passengers with a long layover in Bangkok, who currently cannot use the lounge access until the Druk Air counter opens.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Business Opportunities corner: Hack Detection Service

Following up on a previous post on website hacking (and a bunch of related posts on Internet security) it appears that the different IT departments could use some help in detecting hacks.

Business idea #2 is therefore a "hack detection service". The service carefully examines websites of subscribers on a daily basis. If hacking is found, the subscriber is immediately notified.

Needed resources:
  1. Computer(s) with good Internet connection and a web browser
  2. A reliable person (or multiple people as the business grows) who goes over subscribers' websites daily
  3. A notification system (email/phone call/SMS according to the subscriber's needs)
  4. Basic understanding of website hacking and what it looks like
  5. Subscribers!
Determining the pricing will require considering operation costs such as Internet fees and salaries. Getting subscribers might require offering a free trial period and publicizing the service at different IT departments. A few free trial periods can then be used to show the value of the service.

Disclaimer: Our ideas are just ideas, not necessarily sound business advice. If this business already exists in Thimphu and we missed it, please let us know! Before rushing to implement the idea, do some research about costs. Create a spreadsheet with the costs and see how much you will need to earn to break even and to make a profit. See if you can survive for a year with no profit and perhaps loss, until the business is more established. The best approach is to consult with organizations that help local entrepreneurs such as the Loden Foundation (see their upcoming crash course on Apr 16-17) or the Youth Development Fund.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

iPhone 5 and 4G (K2 #74)

Question of the Week 
Will my unlocked iPhone 5 support 4G in Bhutan?
— Dr. Bruce W. Bunting, Bhutan Foundation, USA


Dear Dr. Bruce,

Bhutan Telecom recently launched their 4G service in Thimphu. 4G, also known as LTE, promises speeds faster than 3G and fixed-line broadband. Different LTE networks around the world use different frequencies, also known as bands. The trick is that your phone must support the network’s frequency in order to be able to connect to it. The frequency that will be used by Bhutan Telecom’s 4G network is 1800 MHz, also known as “band 3”. This is the 4G band used in most of Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Picking this band was a wise decision: 4G phones and data cards that are available in the Indian market - Bhutan’s main trading partner and the source of most phones in mobile shops in Bhutan - will work here. But it also means that 4G phones for the north American networks (which do not use band 3), will not necessarily work in Bhutan (or in other networks in SE Asia, for that matter).

Finally, to your question: Apple manufactures two iPhone 5 models: A1428 and A1429. The latter supports “band 3”, while the former does not. To check the exact iPhone 5 model you own, look for the model number in tiny letters on the phone’s back cover. If it says “A1429”, your phone is good. But keep reading...

Even if you own the iPhone 5 model A1428 which does not support 4G in Bhutan, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Firstly, 4G is only available in selected parts of Thimphu, and you wouldn’t be able to use it outside Thimphu anyway. Secondly, for most purposes - casual browsing, email, etc. - 3G is good enough, and you don’t really need 4G. Thirdly, Bhutan Telecom’s 4G network does not currently support voice or SMS, so even if your phone connects to 4G, you will not be able to make and receive phone calls or use texting. Can I assume you wouldn’t like that? Lastly, by the time 4G supports voice and the network is available nationally, there’s a good chance that you will have moved on from your iPhone 5 to a shiny new device.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Where is the job description la?

Remarkably, vacancy announcements by local organisations in Bhutan will always include the title and required qualifications, but never the job description. This is true for all sectors - government, corporate, and private - and for all job types at all levels. The only announcements that do include job descriptions are for posts funded by international organisations.

Here are a few examples. The last announcement (by BCCI) does have a job description; the project is funded by the European Commission.

Major DrukNet hosting outage

Tens of Druknet-hosted websites are currently down, most likely due to a faulty database server. These include Bhutan Chamber of Commerce, BICMA, Bhutan National Bank, eDruk, Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority, NCWC, Office of the Attorney General, Royal Education Council, Government to Citizen Initiative, and many others.

Is a BICMA decision impacting Bhutan's inflation?

As a country's radio spectrum is a limited and highly-valuable resource, governments pay a lot of attention to its management and allocation. I already wrote a few posts about BICMA's decision to allocate the north American 850 band for 3G networks in Bhutan (in addition to 2100) instead of the SE Asian bands of 900/2100. But I have not touched on its effect on the country's economy. Here are a few points to consider:
  • Stale Inventory: 3G phones available in Bhutan's mobile shops are imported from India. While roaming a little around town yesterday, I found that many 3G phones do not support the 850/2100 bands, and are thus as good as 2G phones. Many dealers are not aware of the frequency issue (why?), so the wrong phones were/are imported. Some savvy consumers are deciding not to buy these phones. Others find out that their new phone doesn't support 3G and exchange it with a more expensive phone. Dealers in Bhutan are now stuck with lakhs-and-lakh-of-rupees worth of obsolete inventory which was (or perhaps still is) imported from India. Given the rate with which new phone models are launched, the value of these phones is constantly dropping.
  • Trade Balance: 3G phones supporting 900/2100 can now be bought for less than Rs 5,000 (for example, the Nokia 208 Dual SIM). In contrast, Indian-imported phones that support 850/2100 are much more expensive, usually starting at around Rs 20,000. The result: more rupees leaving the country.
  • Inflation: Mobile phones are now part of Bhutan's Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket. More and more people are switching from 2G phones to 3G phones. For many in Bhutan, a mobile phone is their most valuable asset. Instead of buying a 3G phone for Nu 5000 to Nu 10,000, many consumers now spend Nu 20,000 and above for a phone that supports 3G in Bhutan. People are spending more on 3G phones than they should have. While I do not have the details of the weight of mobile phones in the new CPI basket, the net result is that there's a good chance BICMA's decision has contributed to Bhutan's inflation.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Phone buyer, beware!

Planning to buy a phone soon? Watch out. Many of the 3G phones sold today in Bhutan can only be used as 2G phones. Why? Most phones sold in Bhutan are imported from India, where the 3G frequencies are 900/2100. However, the frequencies used in Bhutan are 850/2100. This is unfortunate. Many of the smartphones imported from India only support 3G at 900/2100. These phones will not be able to use 3G in locations where 850 is used, such as Thimphu, Bajo, and more. In addition, TashiCell's 3G network is also using 850, and so these phones will not be able to take advantage of this upcoming alternative to B-Mobile's 3G network.

Here is a photo I took today of a typical display window in a mobile shop in Thimphu.

Do (NOT) buy me!

Here are the 3G specifications of these phones.
  • Samsung Galaxy Music Duos: 3G at 900/2100
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace Duos: 3G at 900/2100
  • Samsung Galaxy S Duos: 3G at 900/2100
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand: 3G 900/1900/2100
(The Samsung REX 60, 80 and 90 do not support 3G at all)

All the 3G smartphones in the above photo do not support 850. If you plan to use them to connect to the Internet, you are wasting your money. A similar situation exists in other shops in Thimphu. Shops are packed with 3G phones that will not work in Thimphu. You will need to search carefully and make sure that the phone you buy supports 3G at 850. They are not easy to find: the selection is relatively poor, and their prices are high.