Nepalese rural telecoms services provider Smart Telecom has revealed plans to invest NPR28.8 billion (USD300 million) to expand its service coverage nationwide, eKantipur News reports. The firm’s decision comes in the wake of what it claims is ‘significant growth’ in its subscriber base which has elevated it to become the country’s third largest operator – behind Nepal Telecom (NT) and Ncell. Smart Telecom chief executive officer Abraham Smith says his company has already invested more than NPR3 billion in expanding its Nepalese networks and is committed to spending more to develop ‘a customer-centric and service-oriented telecom provider with affordable prices and the best quality network’. The carrier currently counts around 800,000 customers in 40 districts across the country.
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that in April this year, Smart Telecom – which is 70% owned by Lal Sahu Distributions Limited of Singapore – was awarded a unified licence from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) allowing it to offer multiple telecom services across the country – including GSM mobile – like its two larger rivals. Smart Telecom has already announced plans to invest up to NPR4.5 billion to deploy a GSM network in the Kathmandu region, with the aim of soft-launching services there within the next six months. It originally acquired an operating licence to deliver basic telecom services in 398 village development committees (VDCs) of four development regions in Nepal – central, western, mid-western and far-western – before expanding the service to other districts after obtaining a licence to provided limited mobility services.
However, Smart’s unified licence award is not without controversy and cases related to it are under consideration of the Supreme Court (SC). Within days of the original award, in April the SC issued a ‘stay order’ blocking Smart’s licence award, as well as issuing an interim order to halt, with immediate effect, the implementation of the long-awaited ‘Radio Frequency Distribution and Pricing Policy 2012’, which is designed to allocate frequencies to telcos acquiring unified licences for a full range of telecom services – including mobile (cellular). In its ruling, the SC said it had stayed the licence award decision in response to two writs filed against the move which argue that the current board of the NTA lacks the ‘legitimacy’ to do so. The argument rests on the fact that the regulator is still operating without a chairman – contrary to its constitution.