Bahrain: The Future ICT Hub of the GCC?

It is hoped that by increasing foreign investment, a competitive telecommunications sector and developments in cybersecurity, Bahrain will emerge as the regional ICT hub.

Telecommunications Sector
The telecommunications sector is the major provider of ICT and ranks fourth in the UN Department of social and Economic Affairs global index of telecommunications infrastructure. The Kingdom has No.1 ranking in the ICT Development Index (IDI) of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications prepares the legislation and policies for the telecommunications sector. The National Telecommunications plan (NTP) as prepared by the MTT is currently on its fourth stage. There are 25 telecommunication firms operating in Bahrain with three – Batelco, Zain and VIVA – licensed to provide mobile services.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has recently marked the objective of the government’s Fourth National telecoms Plan (NTP4) by announcing the final consultation on Batelco’s plan to separate into two diverse legal entities – Retail and Wholesale (NBNetco BSC) with the latter taking charge of the infrastructure. The NTP also strives to make Bahrain one of the first countries to provide commercial 5G services. The rollout of 5G services will make way for the cutting-edge technology based around machine-to machine communication. It is estimated that the TRA will award the 5G licenses by June, 2019. The major mobile operators have already undertaken successful trials for 5G technology and are ready to provide the 5G services with the availability of consumer handsets. Three major smartphone manufacturers have stated their intention to launch devices with 5G connection capability in 2019.

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Cybersecurity
The rise of innovative digital technologies has made way for the increase in the number of cyber criminals who can cause havoc in the business networks. The online attacks have caused major problems in the MENA region since 2016. Cybersecurity is a prime segment for development in the ICT sector and Bahrain has entered into tie ups with some international companies and increased the training for the professionals in the field to tackle the situation. Career opportunities in the cybersecurity have increased more than in any other IT segment in the Kingdom. The information and eGovernment Authority (iGA) is developing the National Cybersecurity Strategy.

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Investors in the sector
The ICT sector brings in more international companies and foreign investment to the Kingdom. The government is also focusing on startups as they can play a major role in the ICT sector. A surge in cloud and data center management can be seen with Amazon Web Services coming into the scene. Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is coming up with growth opportunities for foreign investors in the field of cloud, e-commerce, gaming and business segments such as business process outsourcing (BPO). BPO has a growth potential in the Kingdom only if they are competent enough in prices with their Asian counterparts and set their targets beyond the Kingdom.

Tamkeen, the government-backed agency, will support local businesses with 100% of the cost involved in using AWS for the first 18 months of the three-year contract. StartUp Bahrain, an initiative by EDB, Tamkeen, Bahrain Development Bank and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism was launched in 2016 and has experienced a steady growth. In line with this, the Kingdom is also attracting accelerators and incubators in the ICT sector.

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