The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority affords operators the opportunity to excel, providing them with the platform to show off their innovative services, while reinforcing its own position in the market as a fundamental regulator to provide balance in the oft-confusing world of telecommunications. Complementing this reinforcement, the Technical and Operations Directorate and Cyber Security Directorate underwent a number of processes designed to support the work of the TRA and further enhance the infrastructure of the telecommunications industry. In 2011, the TRA broke the barriers with the successful launch of the “I love my number” campaign, promoting greater freedom in the market. This initiative provided the consumer with the flexibility and power to move to the operator where they felt they could benefit most. In 2015, the number of requests for mobile number porting transactions reached 68,846 in total with an average of 5,737 requests per month, while fixed line porting requests reached 2,847 in total with a monthly average of 237.
In 2015, the Technical and Operations Directorate focused mainly on improving its systems among other duties the directorate is taking care off. Accordingly, the team reviewed both the annual revenue reporting process in addition to the schedule of fees in order to reach a positive balance that contributed to the increased growth of the sector and supported the continuity of positive competition as well as meet the consumer needs of providing modern and advanced services at competitive prices. As part of TRA’s monitoring of the implementation of regulations in the telecommunications market, the Number Portability Central System recorded the time taken for a customer to switch their service provider, while maintaining their number to an average of 19 minutes for mobile subscribers and two working hours for fixed lines subscribers, compared to six working hours for mobile ports and eight working hours for fixed ports according to the related KPIs.
Additionally, the technological changes taking place in the telecommunications industry drove
the development of the National Numbering Plan, something that was first developed in 2008. It was necessary to enhance the Numbering plan to be technologically neutral, thereby allowing the licensed service providers to offer services without being bound to a specific technology.
On the Quality of Service (QoS) front, the Technology and Operations Directorate, finalised the implementation and deployment of the Broadband Quality of Service platform, which was deployed in 5 locations throughout the kingdom in order to simulate the customer experience for both Fixed and Mobile services (from a stationary prospective). This enabled the Authority to continue publishing its Quarterly Broadband QoS Reports to further empower the general consumer of services capabilities among the different operators. Additionally, a consumer portal was developed to report those test measurement results on a real-time basis so that consumers were enabled to further examine the related Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of Telecommunication services.
Moreover, the analysis of the international capacity showed that International Lit (or committed/available) capacity has increased by 27% since 2014 from 360 Gbps to 455 Gbps, while the International used capacity increased by 16% from 96 Gbps to 111 Gbps. Therefore, in 2015, 30% of the Lit capacity was leased and 81% of the Leased capacity was being used. Detailed below is a graph that illustrates the growth of the international capacity into the Kingdom.
Spectrum Management Department
Spectrum Management Department is part of the Technology and Operations Directorate and is authorised to perform the following tasks:
- Approving the type of telecommunications equipment being connected to public telecom networks and the control of importing them into the Kingdom;
- Regulating the use of spectrum by fixed point-to-point (microwave) links by telecom operators across the kingdom including managing, processing of applications and assignment of microwave links;
- Protecting the telecom operators’ wireless access and microwave links networks from harmful interferences;
- Defending the national interests of the Kingdom on regional, sub-regional and international levels;
- Conducting regular measurements to monitor the spillover signals from the networks of the neighboring countries and verify whether they are within the agreed limits;
- Monitoring the level of electromagnetic emissions from base stations of public telecommunications operators in the public, occupational and residential areas.
Achievements and Improvements
Processing time of Microwave Links Applications
The technical processing of applications for fixed link essentially improved this year compared to previous years. The technical processing time was reduced from 9.47 days in 2014 to 5.21 days in 2015. The technical process of the (Microwave Links Applications) is divided between the TRA and the Directorate of Wireless Licensing Frequency & Monitoring (DWLF&M)
Processing of applications for Fixed Links
Updating the HS Code list
Spectrum Department thoroughly studied both, the International Customs Organisation’s HS Codes and GCC/National extensions. This resulted in a discussion and an agreement with DWLF&M on the HS Codes of the telecommunications equipment that would require TRA’s approval only, DWLF&M’s approval only or the approval of both the TRA and DWLF&M. The finalised list of HS Codes was shared with the Customs Affairs in Bahrain and hence, the codes were entered into the Customs’ goods clearance system “Ofoq”. This significantly improved the control over the telecommunications equipment entering the Bahraini market ensuring its compliance with the related regulations.
Defending the national interests of the Kingdom of Bahrain
Spectrum Department in coordination with the concerned national entities, also successfully defended the national interests of the Kingdom in the preparation phases and in the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015, which led to new frequency allocations to the Mobile services and to the protection of the National Fixed Services.
Reduction in the number of reported radio interference incidents
The number of reported interference incidents by the public telecommunications services operators saw a reduction from 51 in 2014 to 38 in 2015.
No. of Interference cases and their Solving Time (2015)
Regular monitoring of cross border spill-over signals
Cross Border Spill-Over Measurement Route
Regular monitoring of cross border spill-over signals from neighbouring countries is important for quality of service of mobile communication in Bahrain. The TRA reached an agreement with a sub-contractor to carry out this task on a regular basis throughout 2015. Any results that exceeded the thresholds that were agreed upon with the neighbouring countries were timely communicated to the relative administrations.
Monitoring the level of electromagnetic emissions from base stations of public telecommunications operators
Electromagnetic emissions measurements sites
Spectrum team commenced monitoring the level of electromagnetic emissions from base stations of public telecommunications operators in the public, occupational and residential areas. Locations relating to around one thousand sites (towers, masts or IBSs) were measured in 2015. No signals were found to exceed the thresholds set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) (i.e. the signals levels recorded were not harmful to the human beings).
Develop and Enhance Business Processes & Operations of Spectrum Department
In order to improve the business continuity, all of Spectrum Department’s major activities were accurately described and documented. Detailed descriptions (so called manual) of all internal Business Processes related to processing of interference complaints, type approving the telecommunications equipment, issuing the no-objection certificate to import the telecommunications equipment and processing the requests for microwave links allocations. The documents were designed to serve the Department’s employees as “must read and must follow” document for new employees and by key staff when replacing key staff during absence. The documents describe sequences of operations/actions, application completeness criteria, folders and files to be used.
A public consultation regarding the “Regulation on the Approval & Importation of Telecommunications Equipment (public)”
The Spectrum Department consulted the public regarding a draft regulation on the Approval & Importation of Telecommunications Equipment (public). The main objective was to set the minimum technical requirements for Telecommunications Equipment (public) to ensure that equipment being imported and approved would not be harmful to humans, would be safe to operate, would not cause harmful interference to itself and other networks, works with or within other networks while maintaining its performance with acceptable level of degradation.
As directed by law, the TRA is the designated entity tasked with dealing with disputes between consumers and service providers and also between service providers themselves. The TRA has been requested to provide guidance on the processes and procedures to be followed by complainants when urgent action is sought. Hence, the TRA issued guidelines on the adoption of the emergency orders in order to provide guidance on the circumstances under which the TRA will consider taking urgent action in the form of emergency orders. In this vein, in October 2015, the TRA issued an Emergency Order against the three mobile operators for the degradation and blocking of certain VOIP applications by them. The TRA also issued Reference Offer Orders that set the regulated call termination rates in the Reference Offers of Batelco, Zain and Viva. Moreover, the TRA improved the existing Bulk Messaging Regulation in order to further protect subscribers’ privacy and eliminate unsolicited SMS.
The Cyber Security Directorate has built an environment that underpins consumers’ safety and security. A specific methodology was devised in line with the Risk Assessment Study to identify the critical components in the telecommunications infrastructure; thereby safeguarding the telecommunications infrastructure and ensuring business continuity and disaster recovery plans are put in place. Furthermore, to measure the safety awareness amongst internet users, the Cyber Security Directorate issued a comprehensive review in the form of its 2015 National Internet Safety Review (NISR), which identified the new risks facing Internet users and set recommendations to ensure the residents of the Kingdom’s safety and wellbeing while online.
During 2015, the TRA observed that the rate of civil and criminal cases involving prepaid SIM cards notably increased; an observation that drew attention to the manner in which registration and verification processes were being conducted. Subsequently, the Cyber Security Directorate, took serious steps to address the concern by issuing a new regulation that required the licensees to follow a more rigorous registration and verification process for new subscribers.
Additionally, the TRA has always upheld its ethical responsibility toward society. Thus, the Cyber Security Directorate aimed to highlight the dangers that can occur during an online activity. In 2010, the TRA undertook the first Online Safety Study in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the study highlighted key issues around children’s and adults’ perceptions of risk and their online behaviour. In 2015, the TRA contracted the same researchers to undertake a second review of Internet safety awareness amongst adults and children. Hence, promoting cyber safety awareness via SafeSurf online channels became another focal point. The Directorate held four workshops and participated in two events on cyber safety. On the occasion of Safer Internet Day, 7th Feb 2015, a first-of-its-kind 3D animation in Bahrain was also produced in order to educate the younger generation and their guardians on the dangers of sharing personal information with strangers while online.