The liberalised telecoms market of Bahrain continues to develop at a rapid pace. Telecommunications industry revenues are increasing, mobile penetration is very high and mobile data is growing faster than voice. There are now over 2.6 million mobile subscriptions in the Kingdom and penetration sits at around 180%.
Consumers are benefiting from competition which has led to a decline in prices for services. Roaming costs have also reduced and will continue to do so for the next few years. The unlicensed mobile sector, led by handset devices has resulted in a revenue growth.
With mobile subscribers accounting for the majority of broadband subscriptions in Bahrain, the operators are focusing heavily on improving mobile infrastructure. LTE networks are well established, and the operators are now establishing new services like VoLTE, LTE-A, M2M and preparing for the advent of 5G in the future.
Batelco is one of three major mobile operators in the country with 1.14 million connections, excluding M2M, equating to an estimated market share of 34 per cent.
Batelco once enjoyed a monopoly in Bahrain, but now competes within a crowded market. It faces major competitors including Kuwait’s Zain and the Saudi Telecom Company-owned VIVA, along with a slew of smaller operators and internet providers. They’re all competing for a market of about 1.4 million people.
For Muna Al Hashemi CEO of Batelco Bahrain, turning Batelco into a digitally-oriented telecom while simultaneously keeping ahead of the competition is a multifaceted undertaking. “We are transforming our culture, our mode of operation [and] our infrastructure,” says Al Hashemi.
From an infrastructure perspective, Batelco signed a deal earlier this year with telecoms technology provider Ericsson to pursue updates to its mobile network. It’s also continuing to invest in expanding its fiber optic network across the country. Simultaneously, the telecom is preparing for transformative technology that hasn’t yet arrived.
Although some mobile operators in MENA have yet to introduce 4G, Batelco is already exploring the next frontier in connectivity. 5G mobile network technology is still a few years away, but Deloitte estimates that by 2021 the 5G subscriber base in the GCC will reach around half a million, and will grow across the region to become the standard by 2025.
Al Hashemi says the telecom conducted the first successful 5G trial in Bahrain in May 2017, with help from Ericsson. Held at Batelco’s headquarters, the test demoed to a live audience how the technology could be used in IoT applications.
She estimates that 5G should be ready for commercial use in Bahrain sometime in 2019 at the earliest. According to Ericsson’s 5G Business Potential Report, 5G technology could create $600 million in business opportunities in Bahrain.
VIVA Bahrain is a fully owned subsidiary of the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC)
Through its HSPA+ network upgrade in 2011, VIVA became the first operator in Bahrain to provide speeds of up to 42 Mbps to its broadband subscribers and to test successfully and showcase its 4G/LTE network in early 2012, officially launching 4G/LTE services to customers in January 2014.
VIVA was launched as Bahrain’s third mobile operator in March 2010. Despite entering a highly saturated mobile market (128% penetration at the time), VIVA was able to garner substantial market share and achieve market leadership within just two years, setting a new benchmark for a late entrant in the mobile and broadband segments.
Viva Bahrain, is currently the country’s largest mobile network operator (MNO) by subscribers. Their VoLTE technology has been made available to customers using a selection of Samsung devices, enabling these subscribers to access higher-quality voice calls and faster data speeds over Viva’s 4G LTE network. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Viva Bahrain launched 4G services in January 2014 and introduced its LTE-A network in July 2017, while at June 2017 the company held a market-leading share of 42.2% of mobile subscribers in the Kingdom.
The company’s success can be attributed to the trust and support of the local community and in line with its mission to ‘Make a positive difference to the local community’ by promoting a knowledge based society and participating in community development programs’, VIVA Bahrain created VIVA Jusoor. This Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme is dedicated to the development and execution of sustainable projects to benefit the local community by connecting people and facilitating a free exchange of experiences, ideas and information.
Zain Bahrain a telecom innovator focused on enhancing customer experience, reported a 22% surge in its customer base during 2016, from 795,000 to 971,000 customers at the end of the year. The leap in new customers was attributed to innovative products and services rolled out by the operator, which offer a fully integrated futuristic digital lifestyle. Zain Bahrain also benefited from growing awareness of the strong connectivity and speeds of its world class 4G LTE network.
“Zain Bahrain’s profitability in such a highly competitive market landscape speaks volumes about the merit of its market strategy,” said Zain Bahrain’s Chairman, His Excellency Shaikh Ahmed bin Ali Al Khalifa. “And the fact that Zain Bahrain’s customer base continues to grow in the face of this intense competition speaks of the quality of the user experience on our network.”
"Despite the intense competition, Zain Bahrain has managed to position itself well for the long term, with a higher share of the market as consumers responded to our many marketing initiatives during the year. We remain committed to our core values of excellence and innovation, and look forward to crossing the one-million customer mark in in the near future, while creating increased value for our shareholders.”
Zain Bahrain’s cutting edge 4G LTE network saw a 35% expansion, with 87 new sites added to provide higher speeds and better indoor coverage to fixed wireless customers. A total of 44 new sites were also added to enhance the 3G and LTE mobile network coverage across the Kingdom. A high-end IMS based next generation Core Network was introduced to provide better call quality for fixed and enterprise customers.
In line with its commitment to innovation and enhancing customer experience, Zain Bahrain rolled out the Kingdom’s first ‘Truly Unlimited Social Media’ prepaid and postpaid packages under which customers were not billed for data used through social media applications beyond their initial subscriptions.
Zain Bahrain recently announced it expects to launch commercial 5G by the end of 2018.