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In this informative post, we will chronicle the history of the internet in Nepal with a focus on mobile and fixed-broadband connections, from the early years of internet connectivity in Nepal to recent data from 2022. But let’s begin with how the internet began for the first time.
There is a consensus that January 1, 1983, is the birthday of the internet and it had roots in the cold war era. US Defense Depart had formed ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) to exchange information during the intense proxy wartime. This was limited to research organizations with ties to the defense depart. However, other services were introduced for similar services.
In 1983, ARPANET and the Defense Data Network changed to TCP/IP communications standard and became what we call the internet. It has pulled through many transformations till this stage but we are going to cut short its whole history and turn to its history in Nepal. Here, we will chronicle a brief history of the internet in Nepal from basic dial-up connections to ADSL, mobile broadband to fiber, and 5G. Keep reading.
The history of the internet in Nepal begins with Mercantile. Its collaboration with the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology. The system was limited in capacities and only allowed the exchange of emails. Mercantile commercialized the service in 1994 with a link to Australia. Like previously, it provided a basic e-mail service. It was called Mercantile Office Systems (MOS) based on dial-up technology. The internet would connect online to allow the exchange of messages.
The connection was expensive though and had mostly international organizations with subscriptions. Meanwhile, the system was also low in quality.
Currently the country’s largest Internet Service Provider, WorldLink had a humble beginning. The private ISP started its service in 1995. The company offered a similar service but at a cheaper cost. But unlike Mercantile, WorldLink offered its e-mail services to individual clients that would help it draw the consumers in later years. Mercantile added the .np domain to its services. WorldLink followed its footsteps and rolled out its service for cheaper. The battle between the two heated up.
However, these technologies were dial-up and depended on telephone lines. The modem used in it made obtrusive noise and had a dismal internet data speed, just 56 Kbps. Another shortcoming – the internet would disconnect when a telephone call was in the process. The subscribers for these services paid on a per-minute basis.
But CAS Trading emerged as another ISP into the Nepali Internet market. However, these infant internet services were limited in access and scope. The majority of the subscribers were international organizations who could pay high. Internet was largely elusive to the common people.
Nepal got its first-ever telecommunications act in, 1997 under the then monarch. This paved the way for newer ISPs to launch newer services under a license that was more liberating for the private ventures. Before this, the internet comprised of email services over a telephone line. But with the new licensing structure, the ISPs began VSAT technology.
The technology made email services cheaper and more people became subscribers. But they were students with a well-to-do background who used the service to stay connected to their friends abroad. However, the trend had been started. More companies began providing e-mail and internet services thereafter.
In 2003 AD, WorldLink upgraded to wireless internet service that bolstered the speed to 256 Kbps. It was a respectable improvement in technology and performance both compared to the forgettable dial-up modem technology.
In 2004/5, Subisu launched cable internet for the first time in Nepal. These two different internet technologies laid the foundation for the explosion of the internet. The internet now was becoming a consumer service. Internet though still limited to a few, was becoming the talk among the young demography and it couldn’t be ignored.
The 90s would well remember going to cyber cafes for mail and chat services. Yahoo messenger, MSN messenger, hi5, etc. were very popular in those days as they brought youth online mediums to chat with others and link up. While these internet users could also talk to their beloved ones abroad. But the bandwidth speed didn’t stand up to the expectations. It was still substantial but was making its mark for the educated mass.
However, the wireless and cable internet were concentrated in cities only. Therefore, those in rural areas were still locked out of the wonders internet was doing in the urban areas.
But Mahabir Pun’s heroic deeds took the internet to the rural areas in Nepal. The Magasesy winner came back to Nepal following his study in the US and launched the Nepal Wireless Networking project in 2002 AD. Because of his pioneering efforts, the internet reached the mountainous districts. Till now, his project has set up almost 200 wireless internet services in around 20 backward upper regions in Nepal.
Mero Mobile now Ncell was launched in 2005. It brought GPRS internet to the feature phones of a new generation of youths who loved the idea of connecting through chat applications. Mig 33, Nimbuzz, were the dominant features on the old feature phones of those days. However, mobile data was expensive and data packs were not the thing at that time.
In 2008, NTC launched a groundbreaking ADSL service. This was cheaper and had more coverage around the country than the handful of private ISPs. And the internet culture proliferated from that point on. Cybercafes became ubiquitous. They were the go-to place for entertainment for the college-goers of the time who loved chatting with strangers or going on dating apps.
ADSL, wireless internet, and the advent of the 3G mobile network revolutionized Nepal’s internet. Suddenly, the number of internet users saw an unparalleled bump. According to NTA, the total population with internet access was just 1% in 2006. This surged to 11% in 2011. This was attributable to both fixed-line and mobile broadband and more so had to do with 3G and ADSL internet that ushered in the rise of the internet in the country.
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In 2011, 3G arrived for Nepali phone users which was also the first time in South Asia. It brought up to 10 Mbps download speeds compared to below 500 Kbps of ADSL, a much popular contemporary choice then. 3G helped to meet the demands of the new internet space that was moving towards the HD norm. The video contents were becoming more popular and needed better internet speed to watch them without buffering. It was video calls that were in demand and 3G made it possible. Now, they could call their loved ones and engage in video calls, watch YouTube without those annoying buffering. Browsing through the web became a lot smoother.
The upgraded 3.5G aka HSDPA, HSPA took the speed to 14 Mbps making mobile broadband more appealing for smartphones users.
Meanwhile, Ntc also launched WiMAX in 2013 to offer a better solution for home broadband. It provided a commendable speed for its time of up to 512 Kbps and beyond. However, it was expensive to maintain with devices and remained limited in coverage. And with ADSL being the favorite for home internet solutions, WiMAX couldn’t sustain. There are still 17-18 thousand users but they are now encouraged to migrate to 4G.
Nepali internet was evolving with ADSL and 3G but it was missing the fiber optic internet which was already common around the world. Then Vianet, a private ISP based in Kathmandu introduced fiber broadband in 2014. It brought many reliable fixed-line internet options for domestic and enterprise. This was the next-generation leap the country’s internet market was in need of. Optical Fiber brought more reliable, secure, and high-speed internet access to Nepal. Those on copper-based ADSL now had the option to switch to globally acclaimed fiber broadband albeit to limited areas.
Fiber broadband made browsing the web, downloading files, playing online games, and watching video content a breeze. WiFi users now could bid adieu to the nagging buffering on Youtube and other video apps. With more ISPs jumping onto the fiber boat, internet subscriptions shot through the roof each month ever since.
Currently, there are about 19 lakh fiber internet subscribers split among 53 Internet Service Providers. This is about 30 percent of the total broadband penetrated population in Nepal.
4G arrived in Nepal for the first time in 2017 AD courtesy of operators NTC+ and Ncell. The next-gen mobile broadband brought high-speed internet to smartphone users which helped deliver an HD experience for users. Now, they could download large files; perform audio-video calls, or stream videos This was the truest form of mobile broadband which brought a major speed efficiency over the previous generation standard, 3G. The combination of 4G and a flagship 4G supported handset was a show steal for anybody. While 3G already brought video calls with it, 4G took mobile internet by storm. With its ideal 4G speed of up to 100 Mbps, web content on mobile phones runs glitch-free, and with less latency for interactive activities.
The 2010s has been a monumental decade for internet consumption in Nepal. WorldLink became the household name as an ISP. But many ISPs begin catering to fiber broadband services. NTC and Ncell both launched and expanded their 3G and 4G services as far as the Everest Base Camp. The numbers also point to a steady rise in the internet subscription percentage over these years.
In January 2012, the internet had covered 14.55% population of Nepal. This soared to 39.68% in January 2015. By the beginning of 2017, internet penetration reached a total of 55.82%.
After the revolutionary decade of the 2010s, 2021 was another breakout year for the internet in Nepal. This is because of the current speed war that has broken the internet’s bandwidth rigid capacity to a possible 1 Gbps.
The 4G has swept through the nation for mobile phone users. But for household consumption, fiber broadband is still the mainstream as it should be. But the internet consumers had long called for high-speed packages that didn’t draw any attention. Finally, CG Net sent the ripples across the ISPs after launching a behemoth 120 Mbps (for its time, it was) for just below Rs.1,000. It instantly triggered the speed war and forced major ISPs to launch their superlative offerings.
The common 2 digit internet plans have become a relic in just a few months. Now, Nepali households have options of many 3 digit fiber broadband packages. If that was not enough, Classic Tech has launched a game-changer 1 Gbps plan.
Internet penetration has surpassed well above a hundred percent with greater distribution across the country. The cost of the internet is becoming cheaper as well as smartphones. With Digital Nepal Framework driving the current ICT practices in Nepal, the internet will play a more prominent role in our daily life.
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As of now, 30 percent of Nepali internet is occupied by fixed-wired broadband. Mobile broadband remains the king with 89 percent with over 119 percent total broadband generation. But the digital divide still remains. There are still areas left “disconnected.” The government and service providers need to accentuate their efforts and ensure equal access to the internet for all countrywide. The incoming 5G cellular standard could address this uneven broadband access in 2022?, at least it is permissible to expect so.
This was a brief history of the internet in Nepal. We have tried to include major and memorable events that brought major breakthroughs against their preceding standards. If you have more to add to it, feel free to suggest in the comments below.