Nepali Times


You can use it as an alarm clock, take pictures, play games, write notes, use it as a digital phone directory, as paperweight or even throw it at someone. Mobiles may not ring anymore but they still have multiple uses.

The cynical among you will argue that even when mobiles were working way back in the heydays before February First, they didn't work half the time. 'Network Busy', calls that got cut off halfway and people shouting "Hello! Hello!" into their phones inside restaurants was common.

"Actually I don't miss it at all," says an office colleague. "It never roamed anyway, I save money, I don't get crank calls and I don't get silly jokes on SMS."

Still, people who had grown used to the mobility of mobiles are, one month later, still suffering from withdrawal symptoms. We went over to the Nepal Telecom (NT) but couldn't find anyone who could tell us when the service would be restored. "We are waiting for the government's direction to relaunch the service," is all NT's General Manager Sugad Ratna Kansakar could tell us.

This means nearly 250,000 mobile users across Nepal will have an indefinite wait. Its phone network already covered 50 districts and NT was planning to spread out to all 75 districts, adding one million lines in the next four years.

"We are being very patient hoping the service will restart soon," says Bhupal Chettri of Nepal Overseas Marketing, the official distributor for Nokia in Nepal. Hundreds of wholesalers and retailers of mobile phones are worried about the loss of business. "If the service doesn't resume soon I'll just have to close down," says Hari Thapa who invested Rs 500,000 to start a phone shop in New Road.

"I don't want to close down, there are rumours the service will start soon," says an optimistic Uttam Maharjan at an electronic shop in Lagankhel, who is diversifying into tv repairs to make up.

The suspension of services is also a huge loss for NTC, which loses up to Rs 6 million a day in revenue. The annual turnover of mobile telephony was estimated at Rs 1.3 billion. Also badly hit has been the Indian joint venture UTL, which uses local wireless loop technology. It was required to re-register all users so security could check subscribers.

"Mobile phones have become a basic requirement in this age. The government should consider reopening both mobile and UTL services," says businessman Rajendra Khetan who recently sold his shares in Spice Nepal to diaspora Nepalis.

Spice Nepal has influential Nepali shareholders along with Russian and Indian investors and is said to be pressing for an early resumption of service because its deadline for launch expires in April.

"We are ready to start, a lot of money is at stake here," explains Spice's Indra Subedi. The company has deposited Rs 290 million which could be forfeited. Spice had planned to distribute 300,000 mobiles at its launch on the Nepali new year next month and reach a target of one million subscribers in two years.

Subedi claims Spice's technology is much more advanced than NT's and will be more reliable and ease congestion. "We welcome the competition, the choice is up to the consumers," NT's Kansakar told us. The main concern is not the quality of service or numbers of users but who will qualify as subscribers since the government will now be vetting all pre-paid subscribers. Many subscribers are giving up hope and want their refunds from NT and UTL. Says Kansakar: "We will ensure that everyone gets refunded with the money not yet used for their calls."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)