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200 out of 205 gewogs connected 2010
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2010: 200 out of 205 gewogs connected
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Almost There: Coverage almost complete despite cost and terrain constraints

With Pemathang gewog in Samdrupjongkhar connected to the B-mobile's cellular network on November 14, Bhutan Telecom has now 200 of the 205 gewogs within the reach of mobile service.

The five remaining gewogs are Chokorling in Pemagatsel, Martshala in Samdrupjongkhar, Metsho in Lhuentse, Bjoka in lower Kheng and Lunana in Gasa.

B-Mobile's project manager, Tenzin Dorji, said that four gewogs would be covered next year in the second rural global system for mobile communication (GSM) project phase II. Lunana could be the only gewog without the network because of technical reasons. "It will be expensive and the difficult terrain is also posing a hindrance," he said. However, the gewog would be connected through the satellite network.

Meanwhile, under the rural GSM project phase II, Bhutan Telecom will cover 109 rural villages in eight dzongkhags of Tsirang, Zhemgang, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, Lhuentse, Samdrupjongkhar, Pemagatshel and Trashigang.

The project (second phase) is estimated to cost Nu143.67M, with the government providing a 70 percent subsidy, amounting to Nu 100.57M. The balance of Nu 43.1M will be borne by the company.

Tenzin Dorji said connecting rural gewogs to the network was one of the most challenging and difficult projects ever undertaken by BTL owing to the mountainous terrain. "The main challenges are the commercial power supply, which increases costs, in terms of providing solar power supply system, as well as the challenge to charge mobile handsets," he said.

"The sparse population distribution, in addition to the extremely difficult terrain, challenges the viability of expansion in business terms."

Today, BTL's mobile service has about 300,000 subscribers.

This article was contributed by Kuenga Tendar, Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper, November 2010

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