Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mobile Phones in Bhtuan

During my last visit to Samtse in 2006, there was no mobile phone antenna in Samtse and as a consequence, almost nobody had a mobile phone. Then last summer, mobile phone service in Samtse was established by Druknet, the national telecom provider. Since then, many people around Samtse got a mobile phone. Between 'half' and 'almost all' of the students have a mobile phone; I might be soon the only person that doesn't have a mobile phone down here :-). Some people got pretty fancy phones that have a built-in camera and fairly large screens and others have basic models.

Bhutan is a country where it can take up to 4 days to get from Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag (district) to Samtse dzongkhag - unless you are lucky and get a military convoy that accompanies you through Assam (there is a rebel group in Assam and it is not safe to travel outside of a convoy). Often, people have to walk for days to get to the closest road that is accessible by vehicles. Packages and letters sent within Bhutan might take up to three weeks to be delivered. Rural communities often don't have access to electricity - but might have access to land lines or might be able to connect to a mobile phone tower down in the valley. Internet access is improving but unless you are lucky, speed will be very limited (see

To all those ingredients add the fact that due to work-related reasons, many families are distributed across Bhutan. Compared with both Switzerland and the US, families tend to be very important in Butan. You are supposed to deeply respect your parents and when they get old, you will be responsible to look after them. There are no retirement homes in Bhutan and I know that there are Bhutanese that think that retirement homes are heartless institutions.

Considering the above circumstances, it comes to no surprise that mobile phones are extremely popular. It's a relatively cheap way to stay in touch with other people - one minute of talking cost about 3 Nugltrum last summer (1). I was told that even poor village folks spend a fair amount of their money on their mobile phone bill. After all, it's an efficient way to keep in touch with your family and to learn about new developments.

Having all the infrastructure in place, one might be able to use it not only for talking but maybe for different purposes. It's for sure worth a thought...

(1) I cannot get the current rates as Druknet is down due to maintenance. This means that entire Bhutan doesn't have international internet access for the complete weekend - except if you are using a satellite dish.

Credit for the image goes to Matt Dork.


Anonymous said...

sam, already bought a mobile phone?;-)

have a good time!


Unknown said...

I haven't bought a mobile phone so far - you'd have to smile if I'd buy my first mobile phone in Bhutan, wouldn't you :-)?
Hope that you are enjoying the lovely weather back home in Switzerland!

Anonymous said...

yes i would!i would have a big smile on my face when i see sam with a mob on his ear..hehe!

thanks, weather is still summer-like here. got already many barbecues:-)hey i finally brougth the door of my wardrobe in the correct place. you's gliding now properly:-)