TRA Annual Report 2015 – Chairman’s Statement

Each year offers up a unique set of challenges and 2015 proved to be no different. Globally, the world continued to see the telecommunications industry change at a rapid pace. What we saw then and continue to witness is a sector in the midst of transformation.

Over the last decade, data consumption has grown astronomically and as such, service providers have to adapt by upgrading their networks to keep up with demand. With the advent and popularity of Over the Top (OTT) services, operators will have to change course and develop new strategies, finding new ways to diversify their revenue streams. This was felt locally as well as globally with the overpowering demand for access to OTT services driving the TRA to take action against operators in order to rebalance the scales.

Every year, the TRA sets ambitious goals in the nation’s interest. While in 2014 we demonstrated our capabilities on the global telecoms stage, for 2015, we redoubled our efforts to give consumers the attention they rightfully deserved – hence consumers became the focal point for our strategic initiatives – initiatives that bore fruit. Specifically, our consumer call centre performance proved to be as high as it had ever been and our consumer experience surveys told us that both residential and business consumers were highly satisfied with the services they received. Moreover, the ITU recognised Bahrain as the top ICT performer in the Arab region and ranked us 27th globally.

Internally, we focused living our values. The TRA prides itself on cultivating an environment where respect, commitment, inspiration, balance and transparency matter most. As such, we nominated members of staff to head a cultural transformation committee to encourage those values and build rapport among all members of staff.

Externally, our consumer focus remained a TRA priority. Given the law requires us to handle consumer disputes as an escalation process if a consumer and a service provider fail to mutually resolve a complaint, we responded by holding campaigns to raise awareness of the complaints process. Additionally, we launched a fully automated Customer Relationship Management System accessible through our website. Consumers can submit their complaints, enquiries and suggestions in a fast and user-friendly manner. The system also allows consumers to obtain updates on the status of their cases and will improve internal efficiency in solving consumer complaints and responding to their enquiries. Moreover, we published a number of documents to help protect consumer interests such as international roaming regulations. Furthermore, we also issued an emergency order demanding all operators refrain from blocking or downgrading any voice over Internet protocol traffic or applying charges on consumer usage.

The year was one that provided changes as well as challenges and given the industry landscape has changed drastically over the years, we believe that predicting tomorrow’s needs will become ever more imprecise. Data usage overtook voice calls by a landslide and OTT forced the industry to monetise more creatively. Competition among operators remained intense, and despite this, revenues reached 450 million dinars, 20 million more than the previous year. Thus, Bahrain continues to show its versatility amidst a massive global shift.

This versatility was reflected in further numbers. The indicators from 2015 signified that the telecom sector revenue reached BD450 million in 2015 compared with BD430 million in 2014, resulting in growth of 4.7% over the year. Mobile subscription increased from 2.3 million in 2014 to 2.5 million in 2015, with an increase of 8% making up 185% penetration in the mobile market. Broadband services witnessed an increase of 17% from 1.7 million subscriptions to 2 million by the end of 2015 with market penetration being 145%. Fixed telephony decreased 3% from 247,000 total subscriptions to 240,000 by the end of 2015. This decrease has been compensated by a shift reflected in mobile service subscription. Market indicators also show that the sector maintained its level of employment during the last couple of years, with 3,200 employees working in the telecommunications sector in Bahrain at the end of 2015. Sector employment also achieved a high degree of Bahrainisation standing at 68% by the end of 2015.

Moving forward, it appears likely that we’ll be seeing a transformation in the way the telecoms industry will continue to grow and provide consumers with relevant, dependable services, thus network quality and diversification of services will be paramount in keeping competition fresh. Consumers are demanding great content but also a more satisfying user experience and given such, operators may well have to expand the scope of their offerings in order to evolve in this new market. By the same token, OTT influences more consumption on data then ever before, a situation that will not be changing anytime soon.

With the rise of popularity in OTTs and their capabilities, this will present regulatory challenges which we will need to overcome through policy making that strikes a balance between all stakeholders. Nationally, the TRA will move forward with the 4th National telecoms plan, embedded in which is the rollout of fiber optics to homes and businesses and is a top priority amid high anticipation.

To conclude, I thank the board of directors and General Director Mr. Mohamed Hamad Bubashait as well as the TRA members of staff for their excellent efforts in making 2015 a year of success. We also extend our sincerest condolences and acknowledgments to the family of the late Mr. Rashid Abdulla who was an active and truly dedicated member of the TRA family and will be remembered for his achievements and contributions.

Dr Mohammed Ahmed Al Amer