Bahrain has often been recognised as being a “highly connected” country with both very high internet penetration and mobile penetration rates. The country has 173% mobile penetration rate and 2.21 million mobile subscribers, according to the latest data published by the telecommunications regulator.
These figures will be further enhanced by a number of recent initiatives to improve ICT infrastructure with both LTE 4G and national broadband networks becoming available.
“Bahrain has always been at the forefront of Internet penetration in the region but since the introduction of greater competition, and the consequent fall in prices, broadband subscriber numbers have grown rapidly,” says Buddecomm.
With a population of 1.344 million, according to the World Bank, Bahrain has several operators competing for market share in the country. Batelco competes with units of Kuwait’s Zain and Saudi Telecom Co as well as about ten internet providers in the Kingdom. Analysts and telecoms players in Bahrain agree that there is a fierce competition in the market.
Muna Al Hashemi, CEO at Batelco’s Bahrain believes that it is necessary to be “very smart and work tireless to win market share”.
The recently appointed group CEO of Batelco, Ihab Hinnawi, also states that Bahrain has an “aggressive” competition and believes that the company maintained a strong presence in the mobile market supported by its retention of high value post-paid residential and business customers.
According to Al Hashemi, the regulator needs to tackle competition issues in order to provide “equal terms” to Batelco when competing with the service providers in the country. “From Batelco’s viewpoint, the issue that Batelco remains the only service provider in Bahrain being regulated for its business sector, should be addressed as we are committed to ongoing investment in the Kingdom’s infrastructure. We would like to see a level playing field where Batelco can compete on equal terms with other providers and accordingly we will continue to work in close cooperation with the TRA towards this end.”
This level of competition caused a decline in prices in recent years for both residential broadband and mobile broadband and it has assisted in this increased uptake of such services. There are 1.63 million broadband subscribers and the country has 128% broadband penetration, according to Bahrain TRA. The launch of 4G LTE services has ensured that both broadband and mobile subscriber rates are continuing to grow, said analysts.
“The service [4G] has been a boon for those customers with heavy demand for data at fast speeds such as gamers. We have bundled top branded devices with the 4G services and such offerings have been very well received in the local market both by our existing customers and new customers,” says Al Hashemi.
EXPANDING THE ICT MARKET
Bahrain is one of the leading ICT economies in the MENA region, ranked among the top 30 in the world. The regulator has shown its interest and it plans to expand further the opportunities that the ICT market offers. This foundation is allowing Bahrain to take steps towards the next generation by exploring and implementing solutions surrounding cloud technology, Big Data management and M2M.
Strategy& and Bahrain TRA published a report called “Rethinking ICT regulation. Regulators’ essential role in capturing the full potential of the ICT sector” where the state of the ICT market in the region and specifically in Bahrain was analysed.
“The regulator has played an active role in shaping the country’s ICT landscape. However, the focus continues to be on defining the communications market, supply remains integrated, and there is a high level of support for national ICT suppliers. Spectrum availability continues to be limited and spectrum trading is not yet allowed,” stated the report.
“On consumer welfare, the focus remains on ensuring service affordability, with limited emphasis on consumer privacy. A national cyber security policy is in its infancy, although there is a strong cyber security certification program. There is no unified agency to promote cyber security across all ICT assets. Environmental concerns are addressed and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection’s standards are regularly measured and enforced,” it continues.
The TRA is overseeing the build-out of a national broadband fibre-optic network which it hopes that 80% of the population will have access to by 2018. The network would offer speeds of 300 mb/s and the government will be particularly encouraging small-to-medium enterprises to take up the improved services. The Telecommunications Authority acknowledges that the NBN is essential for Bahrain’s telecoms infrastructure growth.
The regulator is also exploring the impact, including any regulatory issues, surrounding developing Interconnect based on IPX and plans to strengthen Bahrain’s IP infrastructure going forward. In 2014 BT announced it had formed a partnership with Viva Bahrain to build a Global IP Exchange (GIPX) interoperability hub in Bahrain, with Viva supplying the route as well as hosting and connectivity.