Mystery as Batelco wipes first wholesale product from website

Mystery as Batelco wipes first wholesale product from website

Bahrain incumbent operator Batelco appears to have withdrawn mention of its first wholesale product – in mobile backhaul – since it created a functionally separate unit.

The company announced the product at the weekend but has withdrawn the announcement  from its website – and Middle East business newspapers have also withdrawn their news reports, though one copy at least is available from Google’s cache.

Capacity has approached Batelco for an official comment but has not so far received a reply.

At the same time Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has begun a search for a consultant to carry out a survey of the future licensing framework for the kingdom. Submissions are due by 27 June. Only a few weeks ago it launched its consultation (PDF) on structural separation of Batelco, and the deadline for responses was only last Thursday, so it is being speculated that Batelco announced the new product before TRA had made a decision. 

Batelco’s functional separation has been hesitant. The company complained on 18 March that media reports at the time wrongly said the company would be split into legal and structural divisions. The company told the Bahrain stock exchange that this will “only be a functional separation into wholesale and retail units”.

Batelco, it said, “is redesigning and refining its wholesale business unit to form a functionally separated entity that will act independently of Batelco’s retail operations”.

The wholesale unit will be responsible “for deploying Bahrain’s single National Broadband Network and will provide wholesale services to all licensed operators in Bahrain, including Batelco retail”. There would be “no change in structure or ownership”.

In April Batelco’s National Broadband Network company appointed as its head David Campbell, a former Openreach managing director of next generation access who later became chief strategy officer at Qnbn, Qatar’s carrier-neutral last-mile project.

The apparently aborted announcement earlier this week was Batelco’s “first transitional product for other operators”, to be offered by the new wholesale division. The new mobile backhaul solution is intended to cater for mobile operators’ traffic from mobile sites to their core networks, said the company in the withdrawn announcement.

It would be “the first service” provided by Batelco’s functionally separated entity “during the transitional phase of the separation process”.

It “provides high bandwidth for a mobile operator’s mobile traffic to/from its mobile sites across Bahrain” and “runs over Batelco’s network utilising the company’s reliable fibre infrastructure which ensures a high quality product for the backhaul service”.

Batelco approved the structure of the two entities at a board meeting on 3 May. The board agreed that the new wholesale company would be responsible for the National Broadband Network and would operate from the Batelco Commercial Centre in Manama – the country’s capital – as its headquarters.

The two units will have separate brand identities, the board decided. And it decided to hire “a specialised firm” to carry out an audit of Batelco’s assets in order to ensure “a smooth separation process”.

CEO Mohamed Bubashait said last month: “The next phase is the most important in the process of separation and requires the solidarity of all parties and coordination of efforts to achieve success and the strategic national goals for the telecommunications sector in the kingdom.”

Earlier in the year Batelco said it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Huawei “to work together to promote the development of the National Broadband Network” for Bahrain. The government plan calls for 100% of businesses and 95% of homes to be connected by next year.

Meanwhile Batelco yesterday appointed a new chairman, Shaikh Abdulla bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, to replace Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.

The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain since 1783. There is another member of the family among the 10 main board directors and, in the management team, Shaikh Ahmed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa is the group’s general manager for human resources and development.

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