Bahrain’s plans to make significant improvements to the kingdom’s communications infrastructure received a setback as a court has ordered a halt to the bidding process for the 4G radio spectrum.
The auction of radio spectrum for next-generation telecom networks has been held up due to an appeal by a wireless broadband operator on account of exclusion from the sale. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) had initially planned to auction 12 lots of spectrum by March 31, mainly for long-term evolution (LTE) or 4G networks. The auction process was expected to be completed by mid-April.
The spectrum auction at first was open to all bidders and would have allowed new entrants into a highly-competitive market. However, Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco), Kuwait’s Zain and Viva Bahrain, an affiliate of Saudi Telecom Co, opposed the move and the auction was limited to these three operators. The selling process has now been suspended “pending further notice” after an appeal was lodged by menatelecom regarding its exclusion from the auction.
The barred operator, menatelecom, which uses WiMax technology to provide long-distance wireless broadband, has filed three related cases in Bahraini courts. The operator had also requested the government delay the LTE spectrum auction. The LTE offers much faster data speeds and is popular as an alternative to building expensive fixed-line fibre-to-the-building networks.
The auction had been viewed as a significant milestone towards improving Bahrain’s communication infrastructure. The kingdom’s telecom market is highly liberalized and 10 internet providers serve an estimated population of 1.3 million Bahraini’s. With mobile penetration at about 160 percent, the sector offers little opportunity for business and earnings growth.