Nezar Banabeela, CEO, stc Bahrain

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On shoring up the kingdom’s ICT infrastructure and promoting next-generation technology

How can the telecommunications industry and the regulator work together to develop smart cities in Bahrain?

NEZAR BANABEELA: The local telecoms industry continues to evolve at an incredible speed, fostering a competitive landscape that offers modern technological tools for individuals and businesses. While the role of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has also evolved substantially over the years, it has continued to collaborate with telecoms operators to keep up with the rapidly changing sector and foster additional competitive dynamics to benefit consumers. As a result of this collaboration, Bahrain became the first GCC country to introduce internet services and the first to liberalise its ICT sector. Today, Bahrain has one of the most developed ICT sectors in the Middle East, with strong capabilities to advance further. ICT significantly impacts the way communities, individuals, businesses and governments interact and develop. As such, this is one of the focus areas of Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030, which aims to enable the kingdom’s transition towards a smart and sustainable society. 

With regards to innovation and infrastructure, the key inputs to building smart cities and solutions that benefit the community ¬¬– such as smart lighting, smart traffic management, smart logistics, smart buildings, smart parking, smart city surveillance and smart waste management – require critical investments from telecoms operators to create a digitalised and intelligent ecosystem. This will help fuel adoption of the internet of things (IoT) technology. Telecoms operators, with their nationwide network capabilities, can deploy these across various applications and verticals, including mobility, cybersecurity, asset tracking, surveillance and more. 

From an industry perspective, regulations and policies will play an active role in deploying smart cities to help achieve sustainable and equitable growth. However, it will be vital for regulators and telecoms players to work together on developing a holistic policy framework, while considering potential industry challenges and solutions to efficiently scale up infrastructure and deliver on the smart city vision. 

To what extent is the sector fragmented, and how is this impacting service and investment levels in infrastructure? 

BANABEELA: Bahrain has the most mature telecoms market in the Middle East, according to BuddeComm. Over the years, its evolving nature has led to several large licensed operators and some smaller players offering niche products and services. The industry has begun to fragment, and telecoms operators face enormous opportunities and challenges in this disruptive sector. In order to seize new opportunities and connect customers to more new services, we need to continue to grow infrastructure capabilities and keep pace with technological developments, such as 5G. We will need to evolve even more rapidly going forward and focus on innovative technology disruption across multiple industries. 

In light of Amazon’s recent announcement to open a cluster of data centres in Bahrain to support new cloud customers in the region, what prospects do you see for further international investment in data centres and cloud solutions? 

BANABEELA: With the demand for global data connectivity increasing in the region, this presents a strong opportunity for global content delivery networks to tap into this exponential growth and collaborate with local operators for data hosting and other services. Bahrain is expected to see growth in colocation centres and explore co-build models with existing providers. 

How can Bahrain leverage its regional first-mover advantage of implementing 5G infrastructure to enable more foreign direct investment?

BANABEELA: 5G is a next-generation technology that presents a significant opportunity to transform connectivity. As an ecosystem that integrates 4G, Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies with improvements in bandwidth, latency, coverage, reliability and security, it opens the door to a new array of pioneering applications. 
5G technology will support any integrated service at the heart of an ICT centre and boost wireless access, cloud storage and multiple ICT/IoT applications in areas such as machine-to-machine communication, industrial automation, wireless health services, smart homes and smart city solutions, opening avenues to attract further foreign investments in the kingdom.


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