Batelco, Zain, Viva awarded additional 4G spectrum licences

20 Sep 2013

Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced yesterday that it has awarded new frequency licences in the 900MHz/1800MHz/2100MHz bands to the country’s three existing mobile network operators, Batelco, Zain and Viva for the purposes of providing 4G LTE mobile broadband services. TRA chairman Mohammed Al Amer handed the new frequency licences to the CEO’s of Batelco, Zain and Viva at the regulator’s headquarters. The official statement from the TRA says that it allocated ‘the necessary spectrum to the current holders of IMTL [individual mobile telecommunications licences] in order to enable them to provide LTE services in line with the third NTP [National Telecommunications Plan],’ adding that: ‘in recent months a revitalised frequency award process was launched to offer radio frequencies to Batelco, Zain and Viva in order to provide mobile services, including LTE, as a matter of national priority. The eligible licensees were invited to respond to a consultation document, which set out TRA’s proposals for the award of rights to any or all of the existing IMTL holders, to use frequencies available in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands to promote current technologies and the provision of LTE services in the Kingdom.’

TeleGeography says that an auction of mobile licences in the 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz frequency bands was launched in January this year but was officially cancelled by the TRA in late-June ‘in the public interest’ after being suspended in March when the conditions of the process were challenged in court. All potential bidders except the Kingdom’s three existing cellular network operators were excluded under a central government policy decision, causing objections from other prospective competitors, most prominently mobile WiMAX operator Menatelecom, which launched a legal case against the regulator. Fixed-wireless licensee Menatelecom had already received regulatory permission to offer fully mobile services under its existing concession, while it has issued contracts to roll out a TD-LTE network (initially re-using its existing 3.5GHz frequencies). The ruling to exclude Menatelecom from the new licensing process came despite earlier indications that Menatelecom would qualify, with the TRA including licensing conditions such as rollout stipulations for new entrants in the original tender documents.

In yesterday’s statement, the TRA referred to Menatelecom’s current situation by saying: ‘Although LTE is predominantly a mobile technology, its use is not limited to mobile networks; indeed LTE has emerged as the preferred evolutionary path for fixed wireless access technology requirements. It is therefore not surprising that Menatelecom has announced its intention to implement LTE national fixed wireless services using its currently licensed radio frequencies. To facilitate Menatelecom’s launch of LTE, TRA has provided Menatelecom with the necessary code for network management, authentication and other personalised services. This should enable Menatelecom to increase its spectrum utilization efficiency to deliver higher capacity products to its customers.’

The statement continued: ‘Consumers and citizens should benefit immediately from the additional release of prime spectrum used by handset providers for the provision of mobile LTE services, whilst national fixed wireless consumers will also be able to experience the benefits of LTE technology in terms of quality and speed in a fixed or nomadic environment providing an additional layer of competition. TRA will closely monitor the rollout and demand for LTE in the Kingdom to determine if and when additional frequencies should be offered to the sector.’

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database adds that Batelco launched Bahrain’s first commercial LTE mobile broadband services in February this year using its existing 1800MHz frequencies, initially for post-paid users (with a 4G pre-paid option added in August), while Zain Bahrain’s LTE-1800 network was launched in April. That month Viva Bahrain announced that it was in the final stages of preparing its LTE network for commercial launch.