Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) issued on 28 January 2013 an invitation to tender for the award of individual mobile licences and associated frequency concessions in the 2600MHz, 2100MHz, 1800MHz and 900MHz bands via a competitive auction scheduled for 31 March. Alongside the invitation the regulator published responses and conclusions from its final consultation on the multi-band ‘post-3G’ licensing process. Bidders, which may include prospective new entrants (subject to pre-qualification criteria), must register by 11 March.
A total of 2×110.6MHz of paired (uplink, downlink) frequencies is up for grabs under 15-year technology-neutral licences, split into twelve lots.
One lot of 2×5.6MHz (880MHz-885.6MHz uplink, 925MHz-930.6MHz downlink)
One lot of 2×10MHz (1750MHz-1760MHz, 1845MHz-1855MHz)
One lot of 2×5MHz (1780MHz-1785MHz, 1875MHz-1880MHz)
Four lots of 2×5MHz
Two lots of 2×20MHz
Three lots of 2×10MHz
Minimum bid prices proposed by the TRA in November 2012 were revised in the final tender invitation after consideration of operators’ responses, with the price for 1800MHz spectrum reduced by 25%, and prices for 2100MHz and 2600MHz spectrum lowered by 20%; the 900MHz minimum bid was unchanged. The final prices were set as follows:
900MHz: BHD1.68 million (USD4.35 million) for 2×5.6MHz;
1800MHz: BHD1.5 million for 2×10MHz, BHD750,000 for 2×5MHz;
2100MHz: BHD400,000 per 2×5MHz;
2600MHz: BHD800,000 for 2×20MHz, BHD400,000 for 2×10MHz.
Bidders for the above bands are allowed to obtain multiple lots, subject to a pre-defined cap precluding any licensee from acquiring the right to use more than 2×90MHz of paired spectrum across the release bands (with this cap applying to total spectrum holdings, including pre-existing and new resources acquired via the auction). The regulator explained that the global spectrum cap aims to prevent competitive distortion ‘whilst still enabling licensees to acquire sufficient spectrum to service existing customers and deploy LTE going forward.’ TeleGeography notes that of the three incumbent Bahraini mobile operators, Batelco currently holds 2×46.8MHz in the release bands (2×11.8MHz in the 900MHz band; 2×20MHz in the 1800MHz band; 2×15MHz in the 2100MHz band), Zain currently has 2×47MHz (2×4.4MHz + 2×7.6MHz in the 900MHz band; 2×25MHz in the 1800MHz band; 2×10MHz in the 2100MHz band), and Viva currently has 2×35.6MHz (2×5.6MHz in the 900MHz band; 2×15MHz in the 1800MHz band; 2×15MHz in the 2100MHz band). Other likely bidders include WiMAX and soon-to-be LTE operator Menatelecom.
Coverage obligations will apply to all licence winners which have either (i) at least 2×20MHz in the 2600MHz bands or (ii) hold any spectrum in the other release bands. These licensees are required to roll out mobile voice and data services to 99% of the population; incumbent mobile operators will be given nine months to comply with this obligation whereas others must reach the coverage target in two years.
Due to lack of interest, the TRA dropped a previously-proposed 15MHz unpaired block of 1900MHz band spectrum from the Q1 2013 auction.