03:36 PM

Bhutan, World's Newest Democracy, Gets Advanced Internet, Cell Phone Deployments

A country of fewer than 700,000 inhabitants, Bhutan has resisted change for a long time and only allowed television in 1999.

Democracy -- as well as state-of-the-art Internet and cell phone service -- are arriving more or less simultaneously this week to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The big question now is how they will affect the tiny kingdom's cherished state of Gross National Happiness.

A country of less than 700,000 inhabitants, squeezed between China and India, Bhutan formally embraced democracy this week as the political party loyal to Bhutan's 28-year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, popularly called the Dragon King, won the nation's first election in its history.

The country has resisted change for a long time and only allowed television in 1999. Bhutan measures the happiness of its inhabitants, and many complained that TV disrupted its fundamental Gross National Happiness gauge. The introduction of television was followed by a crime wave, according to English journalists who visited Bhutan at the time.

Ericsson is supplying a WCDMA/HSPA network to bring modern cell phone service to the mountainous country. Ericsson said the network deployment for Bhutan Telecom will begin in the towns of Thimphu and Paro and then cover the nation. The network services will include high-speed Internet access, e-mail, video telephony, multimedia messaging, and various content-based services.

Bhutan Telecom also has contracted with AboveNet Communications UK to provision its IP Transit service. The system will replace much of an antiquated five-satellite network while introducing an infrastructure that is easily scalable for future growth.

AboveNet suggested that its service could promote development of call centers and IT parks in the country. Bhutan Telecom acquired a circuit to London to link with AboveNet's IP Transit network, enabling the telecommunications provider to establish the country's first DSL broadband Internet service last month.

In a statement, Leeland Pavey, AboveNet's VP of operations, said: "With remote countries such as Bhutan realizing the demand for high-speed and reliable connectivity, the development of fiber optic and carrier-class IP networks are proving fundamental in narrowing the communication bridge between distant parts of the world."

Media dispatches from Bhutan on Tuesday reported that the Bhutan United Party's candidate, Jigme Thinley, is expected to be named prime minister after his party swept the election results. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University's master's program in public administration, Thinley has long been an architect and promoter of Bhutan's campaign to promote happiness among its citizens.

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