Bahrain's telecoms industry regulator has awarded radio spectrum for next-generation networks to the kingdom's three mobile operators after scrapping an auction that could have allowed new entrants to the crowded communications sector.
The three operators - Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco), Kuwait's Zain and Viva Bahrain, a unit of Saudi Telecom Co - had previously announced the launch of high-speed long-term evolution (LTE) services.
But analysts say these were largely symbolic due to spectrum capacity constraints, so the award of new frequencies should enable the operators to expand LTE across the Gulf Arab island. The companies could have reallocated existing spectrum but that would have been detrimental to other services.
Viva has received six lots of spectrum, Batelco four and Zain two, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) told Reuters. It did not reveal how much operators paid for these.
The TRA's announcement ends a tortuous process that had delayed improvements to Bahrain's communications infrastructure, with operators also tasked with building a nationwide fibre network allowing higher bandwidth and network speeds than existing copper wire infrastructure.
The regulator announced in January it would hold an open auction to sell the spectrum, potentially allowing new entrants to a market also including about 10 internet providers.
The auction was then restricted to mobile operators, but menatelecom, which uses WiMax technology to provide long-distance wireless broadband, appealed against that decision, prompting the regulator to halt and later scrap the auction.
Menatelecom, a subsidiary of Islamic bank Kuwait Finance House, can still provide LTE services, but is limited to existing frequencies and its desire to participate in the auction shows it needs more spectrum, analysts said.
The TRA has provided menatelecom with certain codes for network management and authentication, which should allow it to deliver "higher capacity products", the regulator said in a statement to Reuters.
Menatelecom did not respond to requests for comment.