Covid-19 aids Nepal’s net spread


The number of Nepalis on the internet has increased dramatically during the pandemic, with high-speed mobile connectivity accounting for 59% of the total internet users, new figures by the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) this week show. 

Some 96% of Nepali households own mobile phones, and the proportion of smartphones with data rose rapidly during the pandemic in 2020.

Some 24 million Nepalis, which is 80% of the 2011 population, currently use fixed broadband and mobile internet to browse the internet.

While a majority of mobile users have 3G internet, 4G is rising fast as telecom companies encourage users to buy the service through affordable packages. 

Coronavirus and the World Wide Web, Sonia Awale

Three telecommunications companies provide 4G Internet services in Nepal: Nepal Telecom, Ncell, and Smart Telecom. Some 6.3 million mobile users currently have access to 4G services— 2.04 million Nepal Telecom users, 4.08 million through Ncell, and 199,000 who are on Smart Telecom. 

Meanwhile, 5.2 million users have fixed cable and wireless broadband, with 4.8 million among them using wireless services.

There are currently 127 registered internet service providers in Nepal, out of which only 40 companies have active users—only six among them are main players in Nepal’s internet market. WorldLink is the biggest service provider in the country with 422,000 active customers.

Nepal Telecom, which provides internet services to 900,000 users across the country, has the WiMax Wi-Fi service, ADSL internet, as well as its recent Fibre to the Home (FTTH)—which includes voice, mobile data, and IPTV package. FTTH has already reached 300,000 users.  

Nepal’s internet market has long been hampered by high prices, technological limitations and unreliable connectivity even as Nepalis have rapidly built an extensive virtual presence during the pandemic.

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The bandwidth is often too narrow to support heavy traffic in Nepal’s international gateway and local networks. The cross-border connections are through underground fibre optic cable that connects ISPs to India’s Airtel and Tata. 

As it is, internet consumption went up 35% during the first four months of the lockdown as Nepalis shifted their social and professional lives—education, employment, and entertainment—online.

Nepal’s baby steps towards distance learning got a boost as the lockdown replaced schools with virtual classes. But the pandemic also brought to light the glaring digital divide despite widespread mobile connectivity even as it was aided by digital education packages from Nepal Telecom and Ncell.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s fledgling e-commerce industry is taking flight as safety concerns and convenience drive internet users to buy and sell online. The pandemic has made Nepalis health-conscious and tech-savvy, with sales of healthy food, fitness and gadgets on the rise. Nepal has also seen an upsurge in digital payments as more and more people use e-wallets to conduct transactions.

Nepali internet users, already increasingly hooked on YouTube, sought greener pastures on relatively newer social media like TikTok during the lockdown, helped by special offers from telecom companies. The TikTok boom, which now takes up 25% of the bandwidth in Nepal, saw netizens making use of the short-form-video application as a creative and professional outlet.

Nepal’s changing media landscape, Sharecast Initiative

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