Himalayan News Service reports that industry watchdog Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) has slammed local telco Smart Telecom for failing to come up with a ‘convincing’ explanation regarding its delayed GSM service expansion under its unified licence. According to NTA, the telco has simply told it that it has built 400-plus mobile towers so far as part of the expansion, but provided no more information. The regulator is seemingly losing patience with Smart Telecom, which was granted the unified licence in April 2013. On 24 March 2015 NTA gave the operator 15 days to provide it with a progress report and rollout schedule – as per Smart’s original plan, it was supposed to have launched GSM mobile services in the Kathmandu area over 15 months ago. However, on receiving the telco’s report, NTA spokesperson Achyuta Nanda Mishra reportedly said: ‘There is no satisfactory report from the company on what it is doing,’ prompting speculation that the watchdog will take action to remedy the situation when it meets this week.
Part of the problem at Smart Telecom is a long-running saga over its ownership and the wrangling is stopping it putting in place the investment funding needed to deploy the GSM network countrywide. The company is currently 70%-owned by Lal Sahu Distribution of Singapore, with Nepali company Square Network owning 20% and Israeli-based Gilat Network owning 10%, though there has been talk of pulling in another strategic partner to help the operator find the funding for the nationwide service expansion and licence renewal fees required. Companies acquiring the unified licence have to pay NPR20.13 billion (USD204.5 million) over a ten-year period after getting the licence.