The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain (“TRA”) has recently released the latest update of the retail price benchmarking study of telecommunications services in Arab countries. The study was commissioned by the TRA on behalf of AREGNET (the Arab Regulators Group). It was undertaken by Teligen, an independent consulting firm specializing in tariff comparisons.
The study compares the costs of baskets of telecommunications services for different consumer profiles (e.g. low, medium, high usage). It is comprehensive in terms of services and geographic coverage, and includes fixed voice services, mobile services, leased lines, and fixed and mobile broadband. It covers all Arab countries, and also includes comparisons with the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Residential and business tariffs are analysed.
More specifically, for Bahrain, the main insights of the study are:
Fixed voice (PSTN): Bahrain is performing well compared to GCC, Arab countries and OECD. Fixed voice pricing in Bahrain has been static since first study in 2008 for most users. The introduction of an unlimited calling option for residential customers in 2013 has resulted in a sharp fall in costs for the high usage residential basket (about 45% between 2012 and 2013).
Mobile tariffs: Bahrain compares well with GCC and Arab averages but mobile prices in Bahrain remain consistently above the OECD average for high usage consumers. Mobile prices in Bahrain have fallen by up to 25% between 2012 and 2013, and by up to 40% over the last five years.
For the first time the study covered Mobile baskets with a bundle of voice and data. Bahrain compared well with the GCC average across the mobile baskets. Bahrain, and in general, most of the GCC providers are much more in line with the OECD average for lower usage baskets while for higher usage baskets, Bahrain is significantly above the OECD average.
Fixed broadband: The position of Bahrain varies depending on the provider and the speed of the basket. For lower speeds, Bahrain consumers enjoy relatively favorable prices compared to their counterparts in other GCC and Arab countries, and even when compared to the OECD. For the higher speed baskets, the cost for ADSL rises dramatically, making it one of the most expensive providers in the GCC countries, although the WiMax packages in Bahrain remain very competitively priced compared to the GCC and the OECD. Residential fixed broadband prices in Bahrain have dropped by up to 38% between 2012 and 2013 and business fixed broadband prices in Bahrain have fallen by up to 32% over the same period.
Mobile broadband: At the medium speed (2-8 Mb/s), Bahrain is the second cheapest country in the GCC for both low and high usage. For the high speed (>8 Mb/s) baskets, Bahrain is the cheapest of the GCC countries. Bahrain typically compares favorably against the OECD average at all speeds. Both medium and high speed residential service costs have fallen by around 65% between 2012 and 2013.
Leased line tariffs: For leased line services, the position of Bahrain among its peers varies, depending on the speed of the circuit. For the lower speed basket of 64 kb/s, Bahrain is cheapest across the GCC countries, and below both the GCC and Arab average. For the 256 kb/s basket, Bahrain is the second cheapest amongst the GCC countries, and below both the GCC and Arab average. However, for the 2 Mb/s basket, Bahrain is the most expensive of the GCC countries, but all the countries are broadly on par. As is the case in most of the GCC countries, the prices for leased lines in Bahrain have not changed since first Arab Price Benchmarking Study in 2008. A similar trend has been observed in many OECD countries.
Commenting on the result of the study TRA’s General Director Mr. Mohamed Bubashait stated that “The results of the latest retail price benchmarking study provides further evidence that vigorous competition within a number of key telecommunications markets in Bahrain continues to deliver significant benefits to consumers and businesses. The benchmark results are also consistent with the Authority’s recent analysis of competition in the broadband market in Bahrain, where we concluded that effective and sustainable competition between mass-market fixed and mobile broadband services meant that ex ante regulation is no longer needed in this market. Since the Authority’s decision was published in March 2014, further price reductions for residential broadband services have been observed, in addition to those reported in the latest benchmarking study”.
Mr Bubashait also commented that “It is encouraging to see the benefits of price competition emerging in relation to national calls. Increasing substitution between fixed and mobile calls appears to have led to a significant reduction in the cost to consumers of making domestic calls from their fixed lines.”
It is worth mentioning that the TRA took part in the 12th Meeting of the Arab Regulators’ Network which was held in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman on 30 April and 1 May 2014 where TRA’s Market Analyst Mr. Saeed Mashkoor gave a presentation on the study and its outputs. The participants praised the study as to its valuable information and analysis which contribute to measuring the impact of competition and the evolution of the telecommunications sector and decision making.