The latest entrant to the Bahrain cellular market MTC-Vodafone has said it plans to launch the country’s and indeed the Middle East’s first commercial third-generation mobile network in early 2004. The operator, which is 60%-owned by MTC-Vodafone Kuwait, was awarded a GSM licence by the industry regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), on 22 April this year. Despite having had the option to launch services immediately as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) by piggybacking onto former monopoly services provider Batelco’s network while it rolled out its own infrastructure, the company plans to wait until 31 December 2003 before introducing commercial services. By this date the cellco will have built out its own network using GSM, GPRS, EDGE and W-CDMA equipment supplied by Siemens.
MTC-Vodafone aims to offer both contract and pre-paid services, SMS, GPRS and MMS in the hope of making up some ground on Batelco which has dragged its heels over the introduction of advanced data services. MTC-Vodafone also plans to install its own wireless hotspots during 2003 and hopes to be able to launch Vodafone Live! – the advanced messaging and mobile data service created by partner company Vodafone – by the same date. The cellco concedes that breaking into the Bahraini market will not be easy, predicting that a further 25% of the population will sign up for mobile services before the sector reaches saturation point. It also recognises the fact that the untapped potential of the market will mostly consist of lower-spending users, but hopes that its ability to provide a full portfolio of data services from launch will enable it to attract some of the high usage and business customers currently connected to Batelco’s network. The company has pledged to invest USD120 million over three years, during which time it expects to sign up 150,000 subscribers.