Saturday 27 April 2019

Bahrain: 5G imminent

We wrote about the mobile network operators in Bahrain last year here. Today we will look at Bahrain's 5G plans and rollouts. 

The Kingdom of Bahrain has announced it aims to provide commercial 5G services by June 2019. The Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications, Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed claims preparations for the rollout of 5G networks are finished, with the only missing piece of the puzzle being the availability of consumer handsets and equipment.

Bahrain has ranked first in the Arab region in the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) for the last five years, and 4th globally in the UN’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Index (TII). 

Bahrain held successful commercial trials for 5G technology in June 2018, while the National Broadband Network (NBN) has ensured fibre connectivity is spread throughout the nation. By the end of 2019, the Government plans to reach 95% of households and 100% of businesses. While this does support the development of other use cases, the side benefit of having suitable backhaul infrastructure supports the 5G ambitions also.

The products and services will be in line with the 3GPP standards issued in 2018 and are set to utilise bandwidth in the C-Band spectrum (3GHz), allowing national companies to tap into the global 5G services market, which is anticipated to grow from an estimated US$60bn in 2020 to an estimated US$125bn in 2025.

Like SanMarino, another nation state which will experience 5G before the vast-majority, Bahrain could position itself as a test bed for numerous different technologies, from autonomous vehicles to virtual reality.

Viva Bahrain, a leading telecom provider in the Kingdom, has signed a nationwide 5G service launch agreement with Huawei, a leading global provider of ICT infrastructure and smart devices.

Signed at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this agreement compliments the successful completion of the 5G readiness project located in key areas across Bahrain that was announced recently.

Viva Bahrain will upgrade their existing infrastructure based on non-standalone 5G core and 4/5G dual mode radio unit and high capacity backhauling technologies that will enable Viva customers to access 5G services across Bahrain by June 2019. Moreover, transmission network’s high capacity ready hardware will allow them to rapidly scale up their networks to meet capacity requirements in the near future

Viva’s 5G mobile and wireless fixed services will ultimately enable Viva customers to enjoy not only gaming VR services and 3D 8K video but will also provide a platform for smart businesses and homes, ultimate VR and AR applications, AI and smart cars.

Meanwhile Batelcoanother major mobile operator in Bahrain has selected Ericsson to help commercially deploy 5G. 

The deal, the latest in a long partnership between the companies, will see Ericsson commercial 5G equipment – including 5G New Radio (NR), mobile transport, and core – being deployed in Batelco’s network.

Ericsson’s high-speed and low-latency 5G technology will help Batelco meet growing data traffic demands and deliver high-quality enhanced mobile broadband and fixed wireless access experiences.

Batelco’s stated mission is to drive network leadership in Bahrain and provide customers with next-generation mobile technologies. It recently achieved Bahrain’s first 3GPP-compliant 5G data call on a commercial mobile network using a 5G pocket router. The call used Ericsson Radio System solutions and 5G Cloud Packet Core.

Mohamed Bubashait, CEO of Batelco Bahrain, says: 

“Batelco is committed to delivering exceptional customer experience through provisioning of seamless, advanced mobile services over 5G. We are therefore very pleased to strengthen our strategic partnership with Ericsson to commercially deploy 5G – to enhance our mobile network and services for people across Bahrain.”

Zain Bahrain is yet to announce their 5G technology vendor.

According to Fitch Solutions, acknowledging the growing demand for mobile broadband services, Bahrain’s telecoms regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), has issued a consultation for new spectrum to be awarded in the 800MHz and 2600MHz frequency bands. In total, the spectrum available will be 60MHz in the 800 MHz band, available as 2x30MHz of paired spectrum, and 140MHz in the 2600MHz band, to be offered as paired or unpaired spectrum. The provisional date for the results will be November 25 2018. Reserve prices start at BHD1.3mn (USD3.3mn) for the 800MHz band and BHD166,000 (USD44,000) for the 2600MHz band.

Both Zain and VIVA have 90MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for the provision of fixed wireless services, but would require the regulator’s approval prior to launching 5G mobile services over the band. VIVA gained the spectrum after acquiring ISP Menatelcom in 2018, which provides broadband services through WiMAX technology.

A second consultation for the 800 MHz and 2600 MHz was released on March based on the responses of first one. It's available on TRA website here.

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