Dethroning Batelco

Bahrain has taken large steps in liberalising its domestic telecoms market. CommsMEA reviews the activities of a number of alternative service providers causing the incumbent such discomfort.

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By  Administrator Published  June 3, 2007

Peter Kaliaropoulos, Batelco's CEO has always been a straight talking executive, and last month he admitted that the telco's recent string of foreign investments was in large part due to the intensification of competition domestically. At this point in time in the region, the pursuit of opportunities outside of an operator's home market has been linked to falling growth prospects at home, but never before has the case for foreign expansion been made so emphatically by an incumbent.

"All companies downsize when competition comes in and we will probably be outsourcing operations," Kaliaropoulos told press in Bahrain last month, adding that he did not feel Batelco had enough incentive to keep investing in infrastructure in Bahrain as the national regulator was limiting returns to somewhere in the region of 10-12%.

"Thank you, but that's not good enough," Kaliaropoulos is quoted as saying. "I might as well take my capital and invest it overseas, because I would make a much higher return."

Bahrain's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has brought increasing pressure to bear on the telco to permit rival operators to use its infrastructure.

Batelco's stance has caught the attention of admirers as Kaliaropoulos confirmed that a number of firms had expressed an interest in acquiring a stake in the telco.

Although he declined to name any potential suitors, he did say he believed sooner or later something would happen.

In the meantime, the telco is set to have its hands full warding of the attentions of a series of innovative and nimble independent service providers.

Nuetel Communications

In February Nuetel Communications unveiled a quad play service offering clients voice, video, internet and MPLS-based IP VPN services. The telecoms outfit teamed up with both Cisco and BT to launch its next generation service.

"Under the agreement, BT and Cisco agreed to provide Nuetel with the operational and technical support as well as the transformation of its operational processes, procedures and customer service practices," commented Labib Matta, CEO at Nuetel. According to Matta, the association with BT and Cisco will allow Nuetel to deliver the latest communications services in Bahrain and across the GCC.

"Our association with global players such as Cisco and BT will strengthen our commitment towards offering leading and innovative communications solutions to our customers, using international expertise," Matta explained. "These associations will definitely give Nuetel the advantage and an edge in the kingdom.

"We have built a future-proof MPLS smart network, that enables us to deliver voice, video, internet and VPN services through a single fibre optic cable infrastructure directly to the consumers' premises," he added.

Nuetel's broadband internet packages offer an unlimited, fully symmetrical service, which ensures equal download and upload speeds. The speeds delivered range from 256Kbps through to 10Mbps.

Nuetel's service uses leased lines or wireless links that allow multiple connectivity to the access solutions on offer. Using a point-to-point link Nuetel claims that it can serve multiple customers in the same building. The solution is also suitable for multi-dwelling residential developments where integrated voice, data and TV services can be provided from a central point. Nuetel is also testing a point to multi-point connectivity model targeted at individual subscribers.

"We will definitely choose the technology and partner with a vendor that works best with our infrastructure and delivers the required quality of service to our clients," declared Matta.

Headquartered on the Amwaj Islands in Bahrain, Nuetel started operating in September 2006, providing services to clients in Al Marsa Floating City and Tala.

Mena Telecom

At the beginning of the year the TRA awarded two National Fixed Wireless Services (NFWS) licences to MTC-Vodafone Bahrain, which bid BD5.5 million (US$14.5 million) and Mena Telecom with a bid of BD4.5 million.

A total of six bidders out of nine met the qualification criteria for the NFWS licences auction. They were: ATCO Clearwire Telecom, Bahrain Telecommunications Company, Etisalcom Wireless Co WLL, Mena Telecom WLL, MTC-Vodafone Bahrain and Reliance Communications Limited.

Late last month Mena Telecom went on to announce that it was in the final stages of concluding negotiations for its nationwide telecoms project. Since winning one of the NFWS licences, Mena Telecom reports that its specialist team has been working closely with leading international vendors to develop a solution for delivering wireless telecoms services in Bahrain.

"We are finalising plans to roll out a state-of-the-art WiMAX network," stated Abdulhakeem Al Khayyat, chairman of Mena Telecom. "Our aim is to bring the latest technology in the world to the kingdom in order to make Bahrain one of the leaders of WiMAX technology deployments worldwide, and to continue Bahrain's tradition of being the first in the Gulf for introducing new telecoms technology," he added.

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