AL KHALIFA The King of Bahrain
AL KHALIFA The Prime Minister
AL KHALIFA The Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister
The telecommunications sector is an important engine for Bahrain’s economic growth and diversification as well as social cohesion. An efficient telecommunications sector, with first class infrastructure, used to provide leading-edge services and respond to the needs of consumers and businesses, is vital for increasing productivity and supporting the growth of new sectors of the economy. This includes an energetic digital services sector.
A robust telecommunications platform, as part of a dynamic Information and Communications Technology (ICT) eco-system, will also enhance the ability of the Kingdom and its citizens to achieve a range of societal objectives, including improvements in health care, education and the ability of citizens to communicate with governmental bodies.
Since liberalization commenced in 2002, the Kingdom has been at the forefront of telecommunications sector reform in the region, and It is essential that Bahrain remains at the forefront of the digital developments, within the region and globally.
A phenomenal year, 2019 saw TRA turning a new page in the growth and development of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s telecommunications sector.
In line with the directives of the 4th National Telecommunications plan and Economic Vision 2030, TRA successfully completed the legal separation of Batelco into two separate and independent entities: the new infrastructure company for National Broadband Network - BNET and Batelco Bahrain.
The key milestone facilitated innovative and advanced broadband services, lower prices, better quality of service among other benefits, while ensuring level playing field for market players.
Bahrain also established itself as a leader in 5G technology within the region, with the roll-out of two 5G networks in 2019. The deployment of 5G towers commenced as early as June 2019, rendering the Kingdom a leader in implementing 5G not only in the country, but worldwide.
The latest market indicators in Bahrain highlighted continued growth of the Kingdom’s telecommunications sector and the rapid increase in using the most advanced telecommunications technologies and services.
In tandem with the changing pattern of consumer usage of mobile services and ever-increasing data consumption rates, TRA granted additional frequency licenses to mobile operators in the 800 and 2600 MHz bands to meet the increasing demand for mobile services in the Kingdom.
TRA also renewed 10-Year Mobile Frequency Licenses for the first time since market liberalization, for Batelco and Zain allowing them to sustain and enhance their wireless services to customers, in light of the exponential growth of data traffic. Also, the wholesale ex-ante regulation from messaging termination services was removed, considering the market developments and availability of alternative messaging internet Apps.
Another critical issue related to regulating and rectifying the telecoms towers situation in Bahrain was resolved by the TRA in coordination with the concerned government bodies, by developing the rectification plan which focuses on the important aspects as priority.
Continuing its efforts to enhance communication channels between TRA and all consumer segments and improve the level of services provided to them, TRA witnessed an increase of 89% in consumer disputes in 2019, from the previous year. TRA’s Consumer Call Center (81188) has received more than 31,000 calls since its inception, with an average of 96% success rate of responses to the calls.
With increasing and evolving communication and advertising technologies for e-marketing, TRA introduced a unified free number (88444) to reduce spam messages, as an additional step in unifying efforts to protect the privacy of individuals from spam messages”
As part of its keenness to provide a national domain to promote Arabic content website development, TRA obtained permission to manage and launch internationalized domain name “. البحرين"-the Arabic equivalent to the existing English domain (.bh).
A number of strategies and regulations were also adopted and implemented throughout the year for the betterment of the Kingdom’s telecommunications infrastructure and services.
The 3-year Telecommunications Security Strategy (2019 to 2021) was implemented during 2019 with key focus on three priority thrusts - (i) Telecommunications Infrastructure, (ii) Content & Communications and (iii) Devices & Sim Cards. These materialize the foundational pillars for telecommunications security and resilience over the next three years.
TRA also issued SIM-Card Enabled Telecommunications Services Registration Regulation to address the threat of unverified or unknown SIM users in Bahrain and to protect consumers from fraud. The regulation mandates a new registration and verification process.
The Cybersecurity Directorate of TRA enforced the CTI Risk Management Regulation during 2018 and 2019, to ensure that the CTI owners certify against ISO 27001 standards for all their Critical Telecom Infrastructure and Assets. Ensuring a systematic approach in managing risks and applying a standard risk management process across the telecom sector. By September 2019, all 3 Mobile Operators were certified against the ISO 27001 ensuring that their Critical Telecommunications Infrastructure is safeguarded and secured as per international standards.
TRA continued its active cooperation and collaboration in the global telecommunications arena participating in bi-lateral meets, international events and conferences throughout the year. TRA handed over its Chairmanship to Tunisia on rotation-basis at the 17th Arab Regulatory Network (AREGNET) Meeting.
Last, but not least, TRA also launched its revamped website with a modern, responsive, and user-friendly interface. The website redesign was undertaken to keep pace with latest technologies, in light of TRA's keenness to develop the website’s electronic system and its endeavor to provide its services, projects and programs in a simplified way to contribute to the recognition of the TRA’s vital role in the field of telecommunications.
Bahrain became one the first countries in the GCC & MENA region to launch 5G network, promoting its leading position as an exemplar in 5G deployment on global level.
Bahrain ranked fourth globally in the United Nation’s ‘Index of Communications Infrastructure.’
Bahrain ranked fourth globally in ‘Internet users’ category with 99% penetration, in the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report by World Economic Forum (WEF)
ALA ‘GCC’s Best Employer Brand Award’ for best practices and efforts in attracting talent, retaining talent, developing talent and in retention policy – 8th Annual Asian Leadership Awards (ALA) in Dubai.
CommsMEA ‘Regulatory Initiative of the Year in MENA region’ award for Batelco separation project – 2019 CommsMEA Annual Awards, Dubai
‘ISO 27001 Certification’ by the Quality Certification Bureau Italia for implementing highest standards of information security and risk management.
The regulatory framework adopted and efforts put in by TRA continued to benefit consumers all the more, as well as strengthen the Kingdom’s position as a key player in the global telecommunications arena*
Telecommunications companies in Bahrain offered the lowest prices on the GCC and Arab levels.
Mobile penetration rate in Bahrain continued to be among the highest in the world at 138%. It was also higher than the average penetration rate in developed countries.
Fixed and mobile broadband prices in Bahrain were among the lowest in the GCC and Arab levels.
The number of fixed wired broadband subscriptions has increased substantially to 123 thousand subscriptions by the end of 2019, an increase of 71% since the issuance of the 4th National telecommunications Plan in mid-2016.
Broadband penetration rate reached 157% by the end of the third quarter of 2019, and Internet data usage increased by 185% between 2015 and 2018.
*Source: 2019 Telecommunications Retail Price Benchmarking Report in the Arab countries.
5G commercial services launched in the Kingdom of Bahrain in July 2019, placing the Kingdom among the first countries in GCC & MENA region to establish 5G networks and promoting its leading position as an exemplar in 5G deployment on global level.
Key technologies in 5G performance goals include high data rate, low latency, and massive machine to machine communications
To secure the necessary spectrum for 5G networks, the 5G Working Group was established under the Spectrum Strategic & Coordination Committee. Under the leadership of TRA (TOD-SMD) and in cooperation of the concerned government entities, additional spectrum was secured for the mobile operators (3400-3410 MHz, 3590-3600 MHz & 3600-3700 MHz). This additional spectrum was the corner stone that enabled them to launch their 5G networks.
Spectrum relates to the radio frequencies allocated to the mobile industry and other sectors for communication over the airwaves. Additional frequencies, including both coverage and capacity bands, means mobile operators can connect more people and offer faster speeds.
TRA started its experience with the 5G technology in Bahrain with the allocation of 300MHz of spectrum in the C-band, divided equally among mobile network operators.
In line with the Government directions, TRA, in April 2019, successfully granted the adequate temporary frequency licenses to enable the MNOs to the launch their 5G networks in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Authority has done this through the following steps:
The launch of 5G services led to witnessing a surge in peak download speeds: over 15 times faster than 4G.
5G Handset - HTTP Download average and maximum throughputs (Mbps)
5G Handset - HTTP Upload average and maximum throughputs (Mbps)
HTTP Download - Average throughputs (Mbps)
HTTP Upload - Average throughputs (Mbps)
In line with the directives of the 4th National Telecommunications plan and Economic Vision 2030, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority “TRA” successfully completed in 2019 the separation of Batelco into two independent entities: the new infrastructure company for National Broadband Network – BNET, and Batelco Bahrain, which will remain one of the existing operators in the Kingdom that would lease the infrastructure, along with STC Bahrain and Zain Bahrain among other Internet Service Providers to offer retail services to end users. Moreover, the two entities will remain under the ownership of Batelco Group.
The new wholesale-only entity, BNET, will deploy and operate the single national broadband network (NBN) in Bahrain on the basis of which all telecoms services, including 5G, will be provided. The separation, and independence from Batelco Bahrain, will ensure all service providers are granted access to the NBN on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.
The establishment of BNET levels the playing field and sets the bar high for what consumers can expect from all other licensed operators. This will therefore be the prerequisite to ubiquitous high-speed and quality network across all licensed service providers, thus shifting the dynamic for competition from infrastructure-based to one based on innovative services.
Consumers can now look forward to advanced broadband services, lower prices, better quality of service and many other benefits. With NBN available for wholesale, there is room for more market players to benefit from this national network and compete on a level playing field at the retail level, while consumers will be able to reap the rewards of more innovative services and retail offers.
The TRA held over 70 industry meetings and more than 9 extensive public consultations over the course of three years, to ensure the successful separation of Batelco into two separate entities.
The TRA considers the separation process as fundamental to the new industry structure, resulting in the establishment of a new economic regulatory framework in line with Government’s policy directions under the 4th National Telecommunications Plan.
The new framework will lead to enhanced services for consumers, unprecedented broadband speeds and state of the art suite of services to support the business sector.
In January 2019, TRA successfully launched the Spectrum Management Information System ‘Taif’, designed to optimize operational efficiency of both the Authority and its Licensees. Earlier, the manual processing of applications for fixed point-to-point links had been a time-consuming process. This led TRA to collaborate with a system developer to create the Spectrum Management Information System (“SMIS”) that automated the end-to-end processes, thus minimizing human involvement and errors. This directly translated into greater satisfaction by the Licensees.
Through the SMIS, an accurate error free database of Fixed Links is maintained and the application processing KPIs are reduced by more than 70% compared to 2018.
In line with the 4th National Telecommunications Plan, TRA granted additional frequency licenses to mobile operators in the 800 and 2600 MHz bands to meet the increasing demand for mobile services in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The step coincides with the changing pattern of consumer use of mobile services defined by ever-increasing demand for data.
The Authority successfully awarded additional 200 MHz (140 MHz in the 2600 MHz band and 60 MHz in the 800 MHz band) of spectrum in July 2019. After extensive consultation, frequency award was performed through the administrative granting process of most frequencies (180 MHz out of 200 MHz) and by bidding on the remaining 20 MHz.
Such released spectrum will enable the MNOs to enhance both coverage and capacity, thus providing better speeds and coverage to subscribers. The Authority generated more than BHD 15 million from the spectrum award.
For the First Time Since the Liberalization of the Market, TRA Renewed the Mobile Frequency Licenses for 10 years for Batelco and Zain. The frequency licenses, issued in 2003, 75% of Batelco’s and 90% of Zain’s spectrum holdings were bound to expire in 2018. TRA’s Spectrum Management Department (“SMD”) engaged with consultants to propose the adequate price for the spectrum, which was finally valued though the benchmark, avoiding cost methods.
During the preparation phase of the extension, TRA also granted Batelco and Zain temporary frequency licenses of the same spectrum holdings to ensure the continuity of their businesses and avoid disruption of services.
In April 2019, TRA successfully granted Batelco and Zain the extended licenses until March 2029. The renewed licenses in combination with other plans will allow Batelco and Zain to sustain and enhance their wireless services provided to their subscribers.
After agreement with the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) on the TDD duplexing scheme in the 2600 MHz Frequency Band, TRA worked closely with the relevant Government entities occupying the middle portion of the 2600 MHz Frequency Band to secure contiguous assignments for the MNOs.
Work within the Strategic Spectrum & Coordination Committee has resulted in reaching the agreement that the spectrum portion of Government entities would be relocated to the beginning of the 2600 MHz Frequency Band hence contiguous spectrum blocks have been awarded to MNOs that increases the spectrum efficiency and reduces the cost of network infrastructures.
Regular monitoring of cross border spill-over signals from neighboring countries is important for the sovereignty of the Kingdom, the protection of roaming services provided by Bahraini operators and protection of consumers from receiving roaming bills by connecting to a foreign network while being in Bahrain.
TRA conducted the exercise of monitoring cross-border spill-over five times in 2019, and by year end, a total of 50 cases were found where serving cells of neighboring countries were captured within the borders of Bahrain. These cases were found in King Fahad Causeway, Boarder Island, Shamaliya City (Salman City), Budaiya, Huwar Island and Durrat Al Bahrain.
TRA updated concerned administrations about these cases through the GCC Telecom Bureau, requesting them to take the necessary measures to prevent their mobile networks from serving Bahrain’s territory.
Sample of Cross Border Spill-Over Measurement Points
In line with its unwavering commitment to ensure the mobile operators’ compliance with the guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), TRA continuously monitors the level of electromagnetic emissions of base stations of all mobile operators.
1500 sites (Towers, Masts or In Building Solutions) were measured in 2019, and none were found to exceed the thresholds set by the ICNIRP.
Furthermore, the results of the measurements done on the 5G sites specifically showed that the maximum value observed was less than 1% of the maximum permissible threshold set in ICNIRP guidelines.
All measurement results are available on TRA’s website for public access. The TRA invites the public to visit this site to view the levels of radiating emissions measured in the different areas around the Kingdom. The results reflect the number of measurements and not the number of towers.
Examples of radio-communication stations measured (Towers & In Building Solutions)
The year 2019 saw initial implementation of the ‘Telecommunications Security Strategy 2019-2021’ initiatives to address security requirements of an evolving digital ecosystem; accelerate TRA initiatives, and enhance cyber security maturity of the telecom operators.
The Strategy reinforces the plans, baseline framework and regulations developed by the Authority’s Cyber Security Directorate and sector-specific security priorities outlined in the Fourth National Telecommunications Plan (“NTP4”).
The strategic framework of the three-year strategy (2019 – 2021) is organized into three priority thrusts which materialize the foundational pillars for communications security and resilience:
The pillars are further cascaded into five strategic objectives established to achieve a superior end state of telecommunications security maturity, enabled by 12 priority initiatives which demonstrate the higher contribution of value in delivering each strategic goal.
To achieve these goals, TRA transposed the strategic framework into a phased plan to be carried over a 3-year timeframe, in close articulation with the foundational initiatives developed.
“Protecting the interests of subscribers and consumers in respect of quality of service is one of the major duties of TRA as set in the telecommunications Law.”
TRA commissioned the production of the 2019 Annual International Connectivity and Peering report to assess the overall status of the telecommunications connectivity between the Kingdom and the rest of the world.
Data was collected from the operators and were analyzed to study the evolution of the international capacity on the different international cables landing in Bahrain and internet related peering traffic. The report analysis, presented internally before the GD and TRA team, highlighted several key issues including:
TRA conducts the annual audits with the aim of evaluating and benchmarking quality levels offered by Mobile Network Operators (MNO) in the Kingdom of Bahrain from end-user perspective, across the following set of services.
* all operators meet their license obligations to cover at least 99% of the population
Internet users in Bahrain reached 99.7%, thanks to competitive prices. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Bahrain is ranked fourth globally in Internet users.
8% own a fixed line service, declining since 2016
100% own and use a smartphone
100% have used internet in the last 3 month and at home
Most popular activities done online:
TRA has continued to educate and support consumers; enabling them to make informed decisions. The communication efforts have been successful thus far, substantiated by significant rise in the number of disputes.
TRA actively continues its efforts to support consumers with enhanced communication services and improve the quality level provided to them. The Authority expects dispute cases to continue rising with the continuous awareness efforts.
Messaging termination services on individual Mobile Networks Operators (MNOs) are no longer susceptible to ex-ante regulation. TRA removed wholesale ex-ante regulation from messaging termination services owing to the recent developments and changes in the market.
The number of messages sent by residential customers has significantly declined due to the existence of other alternatives such as Internet applications with a high penetration rate of mobile Internet services that enable residential customers to communicate using these alternatives. Moreover, the average prices of messaging termination services on individual mobile networks in Bahrain are much lower than those in developed countries.
The deregulation of messaging termination services allows licensees in Bahrain to flexibly compete with foreign companies in providing SMS services specifically to business customers, thereby boosting their revenues for the benefit of the national economy. The deregulation could also reduce the volume of random and anonymous text messages. The wholesale market for call termination services still remains susceptible to ex-ante regulation by TRA.
The regulation seeks to identify problems beforehand and shape stakeholder behavior and responses through regulatory intervention.
Sector-specific regulators deal with the Ex ante Regulation to assess, control, and resolve possible market behavior related problems before they actually arise.
TRA, in cooperation with the mobile network operators, introduced the unified free number: 88444 to reduce spam messages. Users can either block the messages by sending the word “Block” followed by a space and then the “Sender ID” or resume the messages by sending “Unblock” followed by a space and then the “Sender ID”. TRA advised all consumers to beware from providing their direct numbers for marketing and to read through the terms and conditions set by all the places that require to provide them with their direct numbers and henceforth, urged all organizations using the bulk messaging service to ensure that their contracted service provider complies with the Bulk Messaging Regulation issued by Resolution No. (3) of 2015. One of the obligations includes that consumers, who have expressly consented, can receive solicited bulk messages in the appropriate time between the hours of 09:00am and 08:00pm according to the Kingdom of Bahrain’s timing. The launch of the unified number resulted in over 184,000 block requests by 2019 end.
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 authorized registrars to provide the best services including smart applications and electronic registration.
Consumers are able to register the domain names: .bh & البحرين. through several local and global online channels providing consumer choice and competition in the domain name market place. TRA is the official authority responsible for registering domain names and levying collectible fees, as well as managing domain name operations in the Kingdom.
|LICENSES||CONSULTATIONS||ORDERS||DECISIONS AND DETERMINATIONS|
|Fixed License for Telecommunications Infrastructure Network issued to Bnet||Public Consultation on Draft Guidelines for In-Building Telecommunications Access Facilities||Batelco (Retail)’s Reference Offer Order||Final Determination of Dominance in the Mobile Termination Markets|
|Individual License for International Telecommunications Facilities to Kalaam Telecom Bahrain B.S.C (C).||Second Public Consultation on Licenses||Reference Offer of NBNetCo B.S.C (C) Order||Decision No. 2 of 2019 – Complaint against VIVA Bahrain under Article 72 of the Telecommunications Law|
|Equivalence Compliance and Technical Committee Terms of Reference - Consultation Report||Order No 1 of 2019
Article 35 Order No. 1 of 2019 Batelco’s Breach of Batelco’s Wholesale Reference Offer
|Determination No.1 of 2019 regarding Batelco’s constructive refusal to supply and excessive pricing of Wholesale Local Access|
|Draft Determination of Significant Market Power and Dominance in International Connectivity Markets|
|Batelco (Retail)’s Reference Offer Order Consultation Report|
|Public Consultation on the Equivalence Compliance and Technical Committee (ECTC)|
|Public Consultation on Separated Entity Draft Reference Offer Order, and Consultation Report on first draft RO|
|Public Consultation on Licenses.|
|Second consultation Award of Spectrum in the 800 and 2600 MHz bands.|
|Public consultation on the Reference Offer of Bahrain Telecommunications Company BSC (c) (the "Draft BRE Order" ) and a consultation paper on the draft BRE Reference Offer Order.|