Bahrain: bounding towards 5G readiness

With Bahrain’s Batelco split due to be completed in May 2019, and the country’s strong digital strategy, we look at what is happening in Bahrain’s telco ecosystem.
5G, 5G NETWORK, Batelco, Bahrain TRA, Fourth National Telecommunications Plan, LTE

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In 2016 the representatives of the Bahrain Government and the Bahrain TRA disclosed that the fourth national telecommunications plan was directed at splitting the Batelco company into two separate entities, both functionally and legally; one of which would be responsible for the national terrestrial cable network and the other for providing retail services to customers. Reports indicate that the newly split Batelco will be fully operational in May 2019. In a meeting held on 3 May, 2018 Batelco's Board of Directors approved the functional structure of Batelco's two separate entities, one of which will be retail and one for wholesale. This was reiterated in the  Fourth National Telecommunications Plan (NTP4).

The Board also agreed that the Batelco Commercial Center in Manama would be the headquarters of the new wholesale entity. This step is the actual beginning of the separation process in accordance with the Fourth National Telecommunications Plan approved by the Council of Ministers in May 2016. The company's board of directors has also directed the Batelco executive management to develop the brand identity of the two separate entities for the new company.

“The separation process will bring great benefits to all parties. The separation will create a healthy competitive environment that will increase the efficiency of productivity and level of services provided to customers," said chairman of Batelco, Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.

Sheikh Nasser Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, acting general director, Bahrain TRA noted, at the May SAMENA Telecom Leaders Summit held in Dubai, that the TRA will indeed complete the Batelco split soon.

“We are due to complete this project soon – it was an optimistic target, but I think we will be able to achieve it. Batelco was vertically integrated and, in order to complete the separation effectively we are working on a  new regulatory framework, and that regulatory framework will set the basis of how we are going to separate the entity,” he told COMMS MEA at the SAMENA Telecom Leaders Summit 2018.

In its Fourth National Telecommunications Plan (NTP4), the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain has set out a clear policy for an advanced broadband infrastructure and introduced a set of new objectives for the telecommunications market. The reforms set out in NTP4 are driven by the Government’s vision for Bahrain to become a global ICT hub and centre for business, and for the Kingdom to continue to remain at the forefront of digital developments.

According to NTP4, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority is following a gradual approach to separating Batelco into the two entities, characterised by a transitional phase and a long-term arrangement. During the transitional period, Batelco is working towards the long-term arrangement of separation, whilst at the same time guaranteeing that the right products and services are being offered to ensure downstream operators are able to compete effectively.

The transitional period will end with the issuance of a licence to the FSE (the single network entity), which will be issued once the FSE has met a number of criteria and milestones. There may be further milestones to be met as part of its licence conditions. Key areas of this framework will consider both the transitional phase and the ‘end state’ to be achieved.

Sheikh Nasser Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa also noted that the Bahrain TRA is currently engaged in implementing and developing 5G frameworks.

“5G is on its way and if we can backhole on fibre then we are in the right direction. Spectrum? We have commitment from the government that spectrum will be made available. The initial plans they are talking about are available, and the government is not going to sacrifice anything in order to delay this,” Sheikh Nasser Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa said.

Bahrain held the first meeting of its 5G frequencies working group in April 2018, the working group is responsible for developing and implementing the action plan for the initial introduction of 5G commercial mobile networks in Bahrain.

The meeting also discussed and finalised the terms of reference TRA prepared for the working group that include the rules and responsibilities assigned to the group.

“The working group will consider the commercial sector needs of the spectrum required for establishing the 5G networks in cooperation with all the concerned government entities and will prepare an evacuation plan accordingly in light of the agreement with the working group team,” said TRA’s director of technical and operations Mohamed Al Noaimi.

According to recent news reports, Bahrain will be ready for the superfast 5G mobile network soon.  Minister of State for Communications Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa said that with the final stage of the rollout of 4G/long term evolution (LTE) networks underway, the service would be available in the first quarter of 2019.

Global Connectivity Index

Huawei’s Global Connectivity Index 2018 (GCI) has ranked Bahrain 41st out of 80 countries for connectivity. The Global Connectivity Index is designed to be a comprehensive guide for global policy-makers and industry leaders to help them to develop a roadmap towards the digital economy. The GCI has increased this year to follow 80 countries around the globe.

According to the report, Bahrain has generally performed above the global average when it comes to their telecoms development. The report indicates that the country has improved dramatically in the mobile broadband and computer household indicator, reaching a full mark. The country’s fibre optic, 4G coverage and internet bandwidth has also improved over the year 2017.

Bahrain has started development in both cloud service and data centres, and IT leaders in Bahrain are responding to this progressive data growth by shifting toward converged and hyper-converged IT infrastructures, according to the report. IT started renewing data centres with more efficient flash and software-defined storage, taking data away from the traditional arrays and shifting the focus back to applications. Cloud migration indicator has also improved by one point. In terms of its development in data centres, Bahrain has lagged with its expenditure on data centres, there will be a need to push more investments in order to support a good user data centre experience and cloud services.

To keep up with burgeoning data growth as more and more devices become connected, Bahrain needs to keep application performance, availability and scalability high, according to the report, while minimising storage costs per gigabyte. Software, along with cloud computing, will become crucial in meeting today’s business demands of both enterprises and end users, particularly in the era of 5G.

Bahrain’s Government has a digital strategy, and is committed to modernising its ICT infrastructure. The Government itself will be moving to cloud computing services to reduce costs, increase security, increase productivity, and develop excellent citizen services.

According to Huawei’s GCI report, the adoption of a cloud-first approach will contribute in reducing IT expenditures by up to 30% to 90%. It will also contribute in facilitating the management of government services, speeds accomplishment of projects as well as increases productivity and enhances level of online security and quality of services.

Huawei believes that intelligent connectivity will unleash a new wave of innovation and economic activity and shape an estimated digital economy value of $23 trillion by 2025, which will be widely available to manufacturing, government services, utilities, and many, many other industries.

Comparing neighbours

To get a better understanding of what these rankings cover, it is best to compare Bahrain, which ranks 41st in the GCI Index, with Neighbour Saudi Arabia, which fall just one spot behind them at 42nd in the country ranks. In the country scores, Bahrain has 44/100, while Saudi Arabia falls a point behind at 43.

When looking at the five technology enablers that the report focuses on, in the broadband sector, Bahrain scores 64, against Saudi Arabia’s 59 – the global average for broadband is 56, meaning both these countries are above average. For data centres, both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia score below the average with 35 and 38 respectively, compared to the global average of 42 points. Cloud also falls below the global average of 46, with Bahrain at 40 points, and Saudi Arabia, slightly higher at 43 points. On the big data vertical, Bahrain again falls slightly behind Saudi Arabia, with 28 points as compared to Saudi’s 30, both far behind the global average of 42. Internet of Things scores also see a large lag behind global averages of readiness with Bahrain at 20, Saudi at 30, and the global average hitting 33.

Moving to the Four Pillars; supply, demand, experience. and potential, Bahrain is outpacing Saudi Arabia in everything but potential, where Saudi scores 53 to Bahrain’s 46.

With Bahrain’s advanced telecoms system, its reorganisation of its telco network to improve efficiencies, and the fact that it is already developing the framework for 5G, the country may be one of the first in the region to actually implement the 5G network successfully.

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