From the mag: how TRA Bahrain is creating a framework for the future

Bahrain may be the smallest nation in the Gulf. Yet its telecommunications landscape is one of the most innovative and advanced – due in no small part to the work of the Kingdom’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
TRA Bahrain, Bahrain, Tech, Business, Society, 5G, Batelco, AI, Middle East


Image: H.E. Sh. Nasser bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, TRA Bahrain Acting General Director

A version of this story appears in the May 2019 print issue of CommsMEA.

“Focused” is a term that a lot of organisations like to use to describe themselves. But “focused” isn’t just a way to describe Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). In fact, it represents the government organisation’s very structure and purpose.

“TRA Bahrain serves an essential role in regulating the telecoms sector in Bahrain,” explains H.E. Sh. Nasser bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, Acting General Director.

“To fulfil this role successfully, we follow what we call a FOCUSED strategy. FOCUSED is an acronym which encompasses a holistic set of initiatives that the TRA undertakes.”

What does the acronym mean, exactly?

“We ‘Foster Competition,’ ensuring the continued growth of the telecoms sector in a fair and effective manner,” explains Sh. Nasser.

“By ‘Optimising Technologies,’ we encourage and deploy the latest technologies that support market growth and deliver higher quality services to consumers. ‘Consumer Empowerment’ refers to providing knowledge and tools to empower consumers, allowing them to make well-informed decisions. ‘Ubiquitous Broadband’ focuses on initiatives that ensure that broadband services of high quality and competitive prices are available to all local stakeholders. ‘Security And Cyber Safety,’ supporting a safe and secure telecommunications infrastructure to deliver highly reliable electronic communication services.

“We maintain ‘Efficient Regulation’ by ensuring we adapt, enhance, and update the framework, processes and tools used by the TRA in the implementation of its duties. Finally, we ensure our ‘Regulatory Framework’ is dynamic and effective by adapting regulations over time, with the aim of continuously reviewing, updating, and improving the telecommunication regulatory framework, and maintaining proportionate focus where necessary.”

Following its purpose and mission, TRA Bahrain has been especially active recently. For example, it has played a key role in the separation process of Bahraini operator Batelco and the establishment of a wholesale entity to manage Bahrain’s National Broadband Network.

“The scale of this project is quite substantial,” says Sh. Nasser.

“It will be a significant change that can give Bahrain the opportunity to serve as a technological hub for the region. We expect competition to ramp up, services to become more innovative, and new players to invest in Bahrain as a result. This project has been in the making for three years, and will be the result of a monumental effort by TRA’s dedicated cadres. We’re very excited to see it actualised, and the road ahead is shorter than what we’ve traversed.”

Another recent initiative is the online registration for the Internet domain names .bh and .البحرين. Sh. Nasser explains the importance of this.

“The Arabic language is the fastest growing on the Internet in terms of content. Arabic is also the fifth language in the world in terms of the number of speakers, which is very important and reflects TRA’s keenness to provide a national domain promoting the development of websites with Arabic content,” he says.

“The use of the national domain name also ensures the preservation of intellectual and commercial property rights for well-known trade makers locally and internationally. In order to diversify distribution channels and spread domain names of the Kingdom of Bahrain, TRA has adopted the registry/registrar model, which will result in competition between authorised registrars to provide the best services including smart applications and electronic registration.”

In other words: TRA Bahrain’s work is helping to preserve Bahraini culture, and helping Bahrain’s economy.

“The mission of the TRA is inter alia to develop a competition-led market for the provision of innovative communications services, available to all, which encourages sustainable, economically efficient investment, respects the interests of consumers, fosters ecologically friendly initiatives, and supports the social and commercial welfare of the Kingdom of Bahrain,” explains Sh. Nasser.

“Promoting effective and sustainable competition in the sector is a means to an end, and is built on the notion that effective competition is the best tool for generating efficient outcomes, innovation, and creating value and choice for consumers. Therefore, the market interventions that TRA undertakes, such as introducing ‘fit-for-purpose’ wholesale and retail remedies and removing the barriers to entry, are built on the foundation of supporting competition that will generate real benefits to end users and the society at large.”

Making sure that regulation will adapt to changes to make sure they don’t limit any development, TRA Bahrain has also been very proactive in embracing new technologies.

“A great effort has been made by TRA towards enabling the launch of 5G networks through securing the necessary spectrum and adequate frequency licenses to keep pace with the latest developments in telecommunications technologies and services for the benefit of consumers in Bahrain,” says Sh. Nasser.

“This makes it among the first countries in the region to launch a 5G network. The National Broadband Network will operate and deploy the single national broadband infrastructure (NBN) in Bahrain on the basis of which all telecom services, including 5G, will be provided – and thus it is vital that service providers are granted access to the NBN.”

He expands on this. “We already know industry 4.0 is going to be a massive game changer. Part of the reason rolling out Bahrain’s National Broadband Network is so important is because the Internet speeds and capacity are necessary to support the opportunities that will come with Industry 4.0. With smart automation, advancements in AI, blockchain gaining global popularity, and the potential of smart grids, there’s plenty to be excited about. We’re keen on seeing how the local market will capitalise on it.”

As Sh. Nasser explains, TRA Bahrain prides itself on being an achiever in the regulatory field. And it’s being recognised for just that: TRA Bahrain won the Regulatory Initiative of the Year Award at last year’s CommsMEA Awards for its efforts to develop a public radiocommunications stations regulation. In addition to that, the organisation recently won Finance Team of the Year – Public Sector at the CFO Strategies Forum MENA, as well as the Excellence in HR – Employer of the Year Award at the 2018 Future Workplace Awards.

Of course, the future is all about adaption. However, given their track record so far and continued efforts, it’s safe to say TRA Bahrain will adapt, too – and help all of Bahrain to not only adapt, but to lead the way in innovation.

“One thing we can say for sure, TRA has always been adaptive, as is required when you regulate a sector that’s prone to rapid, or even disruptive change,” explains Sh. Nasser.

“In light of new market structures in the telecommunications sector in Bahrain, TRA is moving towards being less interventionist and relying on competition policy framework (ex-post regulation), rather than heavy-handed regulation.”

He adds: “TRA continuously reviews its regulations and adopts changes to market regulations that are expected to stimulate a more dynamic and efficient sector. The delivery of the National Broadband Network will promote efficient investment, and hence support the development of sustainable, future-proof networks and promote service-based competition in the telecommunications market.”

Service-based competition in the telecommunications market that will continue to help Bahrain cement its status as one of the most dynamic markets not only in the Gulf, but in the world.

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