Nepal waiting and waiting for 5G mobile technologyGeopolitical theories have been swirling around the delay while some blame plain laziness for the elusive rollout.
Nepal Telecom has been repeatedly putting off 5G trials which some insiders say is due to geopolitical concerns while others blame the delay on plain laziness.
5G or fifth generation mobile technology offers 10 times faster internet speed than its predecessor 4G, and it also supports 10 times more devices per square kilometre.
The state-owned phone company has announced several launch dates, but they have always been postponed for no apparent reason.
“I cannot say when the tests in public places will begin. No decision has been made to this effect,” said Shobhan Adhikari, spokesman for Nepal Telecom. “But we have started internal trials in Kathmandu, Birgunj and Pokhara.”
Company officials have questioned the wisdom behind doing internal trials without conducting tests in public places.
Adhikari says they have been trying to obtain a licence to import equipment so that they can conduct internal trials in the remaining four provinces. “Without an import licence, we cannot import the necessary equipment.”
Nepal Telecom has also been saying that there aren't enough 5G compatible phones in Kathmandu and other cities to warrant launching the new technology. But import records show that millions of mobile phones with advanced features have been imported in the last two years.
As of the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, 1.3 million smartphones worth Rs20.41 billion had entered the country. Mobile dealers say that most of these devices are suitable for 5G networks.
Sanjay Agrawal, vice-president of the Mobile Importers Association, told the Post that Nepal Telecom was fooling the public.
“Almost all new mobile devices support 5G technology. There is a sufficient number of 5G compatible sets in Kathmandu Valley and other cities.”
He said that all new mobile devices had been built to support 5G technology. “If Nepal Telecom starts 5G tests, demand for such sets will rise,” said Agrawal.
But Adhikari says there is no device visibility to conduct 5G trials.
There are other theories why 5G tests have been delayed. In February, two government officials told the Post that the 5G rollout may have been caught up in geopolitics.
Nepal Telecom had contracted two Chinese companies—Hong Kong-based China Communication Service International (CCSI) and ZTE, one of China’s leading telecom equipment manufacturers—for a Rs19 billion 4G expansion project throughout the country.
ZTE supplied core equipment, while CCSI supplied Huawei’s radio equipment. The task of installing and testing the 4G network was entrusted to CCSI. As part of the agreement, ZTE and Huawei would also provide equipment to conduct 5G trials for free.
But Nepal Telecom officials say that allegations of geopolitics in 5G are baseless.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has chimed in with its opinion. Ministry spokesman Netra Prasad Subedi says there is no need to launch 5G immediately.
“We asked Nepal Telecom why they have been delaying the launch and sent a report to the government. They didn't give us any precise reason,” said Subedi.
And there is no rush either, according to him. Since the 4G rollout has not been completed everywhere and it has not been fully operationalised across the country, there is no immediate need to launch 5G, he says.
The 5G project got off to a slow start. First, there was a delay in allocating spectrum with a series of changes in government.
During the Sher Bahadur Deuba administration, the Communication Ministry was without a minister for a long time. The Covid lockdowns appeared as a significant obstacle to the launch of 5G technology because imports came to a total halt.
The last time Nepal Telecom announced the start of 5G trials was during the company’s anniversary on February 5. It deferred the plan again.
The telecom regulator—Nepal Telecommunications Authority—has asked for the reason behind the delay several times but they haven’t heard from Nepal Telecom.
India rolled out 5G technology in October last year, and within six months of its launch, there were 50 million 5G customers, according to Indian media reports.
Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have been introducing their 5G networks in a phased manner since October. By March, both companies had covered 600 cities. Jio plans to complete the 5G rollout by December 2023 and Airtel by March 2024, according to reports.
With high speeds, superior reliability and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms, according to experts. 5G will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitised logistics and more a reality.
In September 2021, private telecom company Ncell wrote to the telecom regulator seeking approval for 5G network trials. The regulator replied that the Radio Frequency Policy Determination Committee would review Ncell’s 5G plan, but there has been no response so far.