Nepal’s two main mobile operators by subscribers, Nepal Telecom (NT) and Spice Nepal Private (Ncell), are said to be engaged in a race to roll out their third-generation (3G) mobile data networks across the country. While the former is actively engaged in deploying a total of 4.6 million new 3G lines in Nepal, its rival is instead ramping up efforts to expand its service footprint beyond urban areas, where is its currently focused. Both cellcos are said to be concentrating on HSPA-based technologies that offer maximum download speeds of 7.2Mbps or 3.6Mbps, with the watchdog – the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) – noting that both NT and Ncell have switched focus towards mobile data and away from signing up customers to just their basic voice services. As a result of the expansion drive, the cost of 1MB of data on a 3G tariff plan has dropped to just NPR0.25 (USD 0.00256), compared to NPR2.5 per 100KB of data two years ago.
State-owned NT is currently offering 3G services in Kathmandu valley, Banepa, Lumbini, Pokhara and Baglung in the province of Dhaulagiri. It has recently installed additional equipment on 229 mobile towers in Kathmandu valley, adding capacity for 4.6 million lines, it said. Meanwhile, Ncell corporate communication officer Milan Sharma says that the firm has spread its network to more than 20 cities since its launch in 2010, adding that with its 3G network now covering all major urban areas it is now ‘focusing on service expansion in semi-urban and other areas’. Finally, both carriers confirm that they have approached the NTA for approval to use spectrum to operate 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) services in Nepal, However, to date their requests have fallen on deaf ears, while the government drags its heels in reaching a decision on spectrum allocation.