It looks like there is a new admin for this area for RSF… there must be, as their latest press release about Bahrain is a bit, well, unduly strong. I would have thought that they could be a little bit more politically cognizant and temper it down a bit.
Saying something like:
Determined to oppose the continuation of your current Internet policies, we hope you will take account of this new request to let your subjects express themselves online and allow the Internet to develop freely. We remind you that we already told you of our concern in April 2005 about your governmentâ€™s adoption of a regulation requiring websites dealing with Bahrain to register with the information ministry.
will most definitely and resolutely burn any remaining bridges between the Bahraini government and RSF, rendering any good that RSF hopes to achieve to be close to zero.
I am not saying that our government’s policy as far as censorship (Internet or otherwise) is correct, far from it, in fact I totally oppose it, but for RSF to go to this level of Bolshiness is immature, inconsiderate and politically incorrect.
Much more important than that, they do our cause no good whatsoever by isolating themselves in such a matter.
I guess this is one situation where a champion turned into an ogre?
I’ve had a good long chat with Shaikh Abdulla Al-Khalifa, the MD of Lightspeed this afternoon where he crossed some tees and dotted a few eyes. As one might expect, he was not forthcoming as far as the money aspects of the issues (overhead per customer, investment levels, margins, forecast number of customers) but he was adamant that with the backing of big operators like France Telecom, which majority owns Jordan Telecom which in turn majority owns Lightspeed, they will have the financial wherewithall to pull this and future packages and services (triple-play).
Therefore, he said, whenever there is a reason to buy more bandwidth there will be no hesitation in doing so, and in fact they have already planned for that eventuality. It is interesting that he also stressed that they will buy from BIX and “from any other infrastructural provider who comes into Bahrain” – which is something I know that is being worked on, but that’s another topic.
As for the resilience and reliability issues, he was comfortable enough with the signed SLAs with both Batelco and BIX. I am not; however, as I could not find any audit requirement by independent watchdogs to ensure that Batelco and any other operator actually abiding by published and contractually agreed contention ratios. From my own bitter experience I can tell you that I feel that the contention ratio in my area could not possibly be what is promised; it possibly is much higher owing to how slow the connection gets in both the office and at home.
When I pushed for me to see their audited financials, he was a bit bashful and said that in reality they have only been in operation for about a year and although they do have audited reports, their costs and overheads where all lodged with the TRA. I could not find annuals on their website, which is another criticism I had put to him as I believed that their website is at best very amateurish. He agreed and promised that another nicer version is being worked on which should be launched by year’s end, maybe sooner.
There is no reason for me to believe that they are playing games; it is not in their best interest to be sure and what they are doing is slowly chipping away at the monolith. Their ability to be the first in the market to offer this service from the 1st of August, while others can only apply for the service on that date was due to Lightspeed being the selected beta tester for the service – according to Shaikh Abdulla. In fact, he said, they have been testing the service on a limited basis for quite a while, but the TRA and Batelco’s requirement for “belt and braces” by double testing everything before launching the product delayed them from coming to market even sooner.
As to the financial stability and some operators still owing money to BIX/Batelco he doesn’t see an issue in this at all and I partly agree; BIX provides a 45 day credit facility to its customers while Batelco’s terms are generally 30 days, so that actually and practically lumps all operators in the same basket as far as owing moneys to vendors. I agree that it is good business practice to utilise the full credit period given – why would you give your money away before you really have to while you can invest it however briefly in other pursuits?
Shaikh Abdulla also feels that the Batelco-mandated requirement of minimum registrants per month and a really stringent forecasting procedure could easily be reached and surpassed. He did not offer any specific numbers of customers already signed up to their service so far, nor was he forthcoming in disclosing their submitted forecasts. I somewhat hesitate to share his enthusiasm; however, but am more than happy to wish Lightspeed the best of luck in this regard.
The clauses I am talking about – by the way – are clearly stated in the TRA produced “Bitstream Service” description document of which I quote a few of relevant sections which you too might find interesting:
3. SERVICE TERMS
3.1 Provision of the Bitstream shall be conditional on the Access Seeker agreeing to submit the following minimum aggregate number of Bitstream Requests for all Batelco Exchanges per month for each year of the provision of any Bitstream Service by Batelco to the Access Seeker:
(a) 192 per month in the first year;
(b) 128 per month in the second year; and
(c) 96 per month in the third year.
3.2 Batelco will implement Bitstream Requests from the Access Seeker and requests for configuration and provision of connections from other Licensed Operators and from itself with respect to any Batelco Exchange in batches of 32, representing the number of ports on a DSLAM or MSAN equipment card in the Batelco Exchange.
7.1 At the beginning of each calendar month, the Access Seeker must supply a forecast of the expected requests for the Bitstream Service in each month of the six month period following the date of the forecast, in the form required by Batelco from time to time.
7.2 Subject to Batelco complying with paragraph 7.3 below, for each forecast made under this Service Description, the aggregate number of requests for Bitstream Services identified in a calendar month of the forecast plus the two following calendar months are a commitment to order those Bitstream Services. If the Access Seeker has not placed those number of requests by the end of the calendar month the Access Seeker shall pay an amount equal to three times the relevant monthly port charge for each request for Bitstream Services not ordered.
7.3 Batelco will use all reasonable endeavours to adhere to the rollout plan for BEs at Annex 5 and will give the Access Seeker reasonable notice of any changes to that Annex, such notice period to be at least the same as any notice period by which any Batelco retail operation is notified of changes by any Batelco wholesale operation.
I really have a problem with the above paragraph being titled “Forecasting” because normal forecasting or pipelining I am familiar with in my business is an exercise for a us – the customer – to provide the vendor with a non-binding best guestimate of foreseeable purchases so that the vendor could statistically prepare their production lines to fulfill the needs. Needless to say, vendors have developed quite sophisticated methods to forecast demand based on feedback they receive from their customers.
With the above requirements it is hardly a forecast but a commitment to buy services and you would get penalised for it if you don’t order whatever you have forecast for the current month and the 2 months which follow, essentially you are giving them a quarterly prepaid cheque and if you don’t deliver, boy your ass is grass, to the tune of a penalty which is three times the port rental charge! I will leave you to do the math if a customer does not fulfil their numbers. Man do I salivate at the prospect of having salesmen whom I can treat like this, slavery would be a blessing for them I can tell you!
As to the very important contention ratios which Batelco must abide by (by the description does not provide practical manners in which it could police this very important aspect of the operation)
Of course the costs of providing these services which the operators will have to pay Batelco (note that these are not all the charges obviously, there are several more which are quite steep that the operators have to pay for the privilege of offering these services in lieu of Batelco, if you are really interested I can give them to you, suffice it to state that the pleasure of establishing a bitstream relationship will set you back BD50,701 – don’t you ever forget the BD1 in that figure! – but fortunately that’s a one time charge. You do pay a monthly relationship maintenance fee of BD1,067 for the honour, however, not forgetting the other infrastructural charges you will have already borne by investing in equipment not provided by Batelco nor BIX.)
I would like to draw your attention to the 256kbps package which is arguably the one that most of the 50-60k ADSL subscribers in Bahrain have opted for. Note that Batelco sells this service at BD10 retail, but offers it at higher than that for wholesale! I hope I understood the figures wrong and wish to be corrected, but that in itself is unsavoury isn’t it? Apart from it being completely anti-competitive.
All in all, there is much more to this issue than meets the eye. I fully realise that getting anything out of Batelco is akin to wrenching a steak from the mouth of a hungry lion, but it has to be done, and if this is exercised by (now) smaller operators in the market, then so be it and I wish them all much luck. Anything that could takes a chunk of Batelco is good for this country. Generally.
Finally, there is some movement as far as the internet connectivity is concerned. Lightspeed Communications, which is partly owned by Jordan Telecom, has announced unlimited ADSL packages for the home and office at cheaper rates than the current bandwidth-limited packages offered by Batelco; details of these packages are:
If you go to their site’s tarriff page you will see a bright orange star next to the “promotional rate” but the page does not explain what that star is. It is fair to assume that it indicates some terms and conditions attached to that offer, but in the absence of printed explanations we have to wait for an official response, but unfortunately no response was forthcoming.
Hot on the heals of Lightspeed though, Lightspeed’s supplier have started offering Unlimited access to their business packages with an appreciable discount too! I would not be surprised to find that Batelco will soon introduced either more reductions of tariffs for home users and/or new unlimited packages and that, my friends, will be very welcome.
Is Batelco feeling the competitive heat? There are now many competitors in the broadband business: MTC Vodafone, Lightspeed, Neutel, Kalam, MENA Telecom and 2Connect amongst others, so Batelco most definitely is feeling the heat and Batelco being Batelco is responding of course. They do take competition very seriously and if history serves right, they will only move to provide better, faster and cheaper services when they have to.
They have now, I believe that the charges they levy on broadband access (both residential and business) are still high and I am absolutely convinced that ultimately they will be forced to reduce their tariffs to be more compatible with world standards, and more importantly, be reasonable enough for the local market to engender good internet based innovations.
The numbers that the competitors are offering though do not seem very convincing, especially when you consider they essentially buy wholesale from Batelco and then resell it without having to invest in their own infrastructure but depend on that provided by both Batelco and BIX. This is legitimate business practice of course and done in true trader mentality. But the thing that I fear is that just like a lot of small traders, they over promise and under deliver.
Consider for instance the packages recently announced by Lightspeed (shown above); their capacity is based on a 1Gbps port purchased from Batelco (bitstream service a lot of Lightspeed’s services would run on) which they hope to generate enough interest to fill. At the moment their contention ratio on that pipe is promised to be something like 15:1, but insiders tell me that in order for them to make any money off this deal, their business model is based on providing a contention ratio of 30-40:1. This essentially means that if you buy a 2Mbps contract from them, when they reach their break-even point you will probably experience much lower speeds! By that time of course Batelco might well have released much more competitive packages, or other entrants would have come into the market with good financial strength to carry their plans through while you are locked into that “star” that we can’t seem to find the explanation of.
The financial strengths of both Lightspeed and Kalam specifically give rise to some concerns. My sources indicate that both companies have not paid their BIX bill for months now and are under threat of stop-service. Lightspeed also had to downgrade its bandwidth capacity with BIX because it simply cannot afford the bill and this happened after it has been taken over by Jordan Telecom!
Lightspeed might have a bigger problem on its hands in a few months if it does not meet the “minimum customer connectivity clause” of the contract and if that happens, you can rest assured that Batelco will come down on Lightspeed like a tonne of bricks with hefty fines already designed in their contract. The repercussions – without the Jordan Telecom muscle – could very well be bankruptcy should they not take care of this particular problem.
Still, residential packages as they have offered could be their ultimate salvation. But they are sitting on a knife’s edge and they have to manage it very very carefully. If they sell a lot of these packages and they ultimately find they have a lot of unsatisfied customers due to the high contention ratios they will shoot themselves in the foot. Actually they would have shot off the whole leg. It’s that serious ironically because customers in 8 – 12 months’ time will have a much bigger choice than that currently enjoyed.
This is a similar situation – business wise, I am told, between Batelco and Kalam where the former who has been branded the latter as a “bad payer” with all the conditions that ensues on their relationship and ultimately customer base. There is nothing worse than falling foul of a business supplier. I hope they can re-capitalised (again?) in order to remove that particular stigma and be more creative in their offerings. We hardly hear of Kalam now.
There are also those malicious rumours doing the rounds that a telecoms company has not paid its employees for 6 months! I don’t know about the employees themselves, but had that been me I would have chucked that company in a long time ago and wrote the unpaid salaries off rather than keep with the headache of “will I get paid this month.” Telecoms companies are not alone in this boat of course, other major media companies do suffer from the same, uh, variable salary pay days just to keep employees (and their personal loaning banks) on their toes.
Which brings me to another question mark point here: Is it ego that is driving MENA Telecom or is it really good business sense? Why would anyone invest in a technology that has not solidified yet and why depend on a single vendor to take you down that path? Why invest such a huge sum of money in it without first testing the market properly or simply building a viable business case?
Why would it invest the huge sum of US$60 million in a market whose best estimates of broadband users is 60,000 and the vast majority of whom are on the Batelco 10 Dinar package per month?! What and where is their particular market? Please tell me! Unless they wish to take on Batelco head-on in the broadband business but then Batelco is operating on completely depreciated copper while MENA is going for the ultra new WiMax technology! If they do get even 100% market ownership of that “huge” 60k user-base, where can they make their money? I doubt very much that they will make it from VPN or DVB services. I can understand that a few business customers (and by few I do mean few) going for their VPN solution, but as we do not have any media infrastructure to speak of in this country, I would be kind enough to them to assume that they actually copied their business solutions from the Motorola WiMax brochure rather than have conducted proper market research! Could they please give the salesman who sold them that “solution” my number? I am in desperate need of as good sales staff. Still, they will be successful. They’ve got KFH to hold their back and it won’t allow it to fail. Industry watchers think that MENA might have gone bankrupt twice already save for KFH’s deep pockets.
So where does all of that leave us the consumers in this Jewel in the Arabian Gulf?
It certainly gives us more options, entrants are now coming up with nice packages but unfortunately they are not very well thought out business cases as we have seen from the above, but one could be forgiven for seeing a similarity in this and “birth pains”. Ultimately the good will rise because of innovative offerings while others will just naturally disappear from existence. This is the nature of a deregulated market and that is what we should expect more of.
What would really deregulate the market; however, is splitting Batelco into at least 2 businesses: one managing the wholesale which should own the infrastructure, while the other continue to offer the retail services. This will allow its retail operation to fairly compete in the market and with its own self. Rather than continuously being at loggerheads with the TRA for hiked prices offered to its customers and much more importantly allow new business entrants to come into the market and boldly provide new innovative services without having to worry that the rug will be pulled from under their feet at any moment.
With the various schemes and announcements from potential competitors like 2Connect with their 30% reduction in tariffs for broadband changes when compared to Batelco, the mediocre and meagre offerings of MTC Vodafone’s 3.5G access and latest from both MENA Telecom and MTC Vodafone’s WiMax initiatives, Batelco surprised no one when they announced yesterday in their press conference that they are reducing the tariffs of business broadband by 25% while 2 new packages were introduced at a reduction for businesses with an unlimited threshold. That’s the good part, the bad of course is that they are still too expensive when compared to the rest of the world and there is a lot of improvement room left not only in price, but also for the speeds available, which, I am certain, will come along a lot faster now that competition is heating up.
I refuse to believe that these changes have happened to “help” the community, Batelco had ample time and resources to do that amidst the community passionate appeals for them to do so, they brushed those appeals aside, lifted their noses high and went ahead and did what pleases them. So the following seems rather strange coming from them, it is as if they have just woken up to the power of communications in general and are philanthropically and selflessly now contributing to the country’s development and global competitiveness:
â€œInformation and communication technology (ICT) and e-services can complement the kingdomâ€™s financial sector in accelerating Bahrainâ€™s future economic growth,â€ he noted.
â€œTo enable businesses and ministries to embrace the advantages of electronically delivered services, the availability and cost of high speed broadband connectivity is crucial.
â€œBatelco has, therefore, introduced new managed data services and reduced its prices for business broadband by 50pc.â€
This will create the most competitive rates for high speed dedicated Internet access across the GCC, said Mr Kaliaropoulos.
â€œOnline delivery of services and information by ministries and businesses, not only creates a sustainable, knowledge-driven economy but also creates high value jobs and encourages innovation in creating and delivering content via portals and fixed and wireless devices,â€ he said.
â€œFixed and wireless broadband technologies introduced by Batelco and now, extremely competitive Internet access services, are crucial components for regional leadership in e-services.â€
No Mr. Kaliaropoulos, what you did is respond to mounting competitive pressures, which a normal company is fully condoned in doing of course; however, Batelco, being effectively the sole operator in the country and the criticality of its product in the development of our economy and creativity, you should have responded without having to wait for the competition to knock on your door. Had you done so, you would have already realised the increased market size and profitability as you have already noticed in your mobile telephony offerings:
“Competition in the market created new customers and did not affect the company too much as it lost only about 15% – 20% of its customers while mobile users increased from 300,000 to about 620,000 subscribers in Bahrain”
The question now is will the TRA play your game and allow you to offer these prices? I hope they will, but only to force you and your competitors to achieve better competitiveness through efficiency and strengthening the market size in order to offer even more reasonable reductions in exorbitant tariffs.
The TCCM shows the extent of connectivity of individuals in a certain country whether via fixed lines, cellular lines and/or Internet.
What about broadband I hear you ask?
The Arab World still lags behind developed countries in the penetration and use of broadband Internet and Internet access at large. For example, Bahrain leads the Arab World with a 5.79% Internet broadband penetration (total broadband accounts by total population). Still this is much lower than Denmarkâ€™s 32%, South Koreaâ€™s 29% or the United Statesâ€™ 20%.â€
5.79%, that’s it? For a country that is supposedly “wired”, this is what we have? What pittance. Of course, Batelco’s game is margin over revenue, not stopping for a second to consider that should they open up this market and uncap the stupidity they call “broadband” will most possibly unleash the creative juices and we might, just might, start using the Internet for commerce and entertainment as it should be used, rather than having to count the bytes as if this is still the telex age.
Let’s see how the “traditional” press spins this one out tomorrow; I predict a big bold headline in the GDN… hold on, it’s coming it’s coming; ahhhh:
Do you guys (in Bahrain) have a problem connecting normally to Flickr? I can connect no problem through a proxy but straight through just takes ages. Have they (or are they) blocking or at least proxying/throttling that in Bahrain (hence the slowdown) I wonder?
I’m not raising alarms, but just want your feedback, maybe it’s something wrong with my setup for some reason.
The ping test is okay,
— flickr.com ping statistics — 13 packets transmitted, 13 packets received, 0% packet loss round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 239.654/243.084/253.132/3.216 ms
I called the inet help desk and they say that everything is functioning okay and that flickr is not blocked.
update 9 Apr, ’07: I am told that Batelco has started to block the sites again, but rather than blocking them at the proxy servers (which are in a sad state, it seems) they are blocking them directly at the router, which means it is going to be harder to bypass that block. I’ve checked some of the sites below and found that some indeed appear blocked. So, essentially, no lesson has been learnt unfortunately.
I have no idea what’s going on, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
I have just checked all the listed blocked internet sites just now and ALL of them are unblocked!
أعلن العضو المنتدب لشركة (2 كونيكت) فهد الشيراوي أن شركته ستبدأ بتوفير خدمة الإنترنت مجاناً للأفراد في البحرين اعتباراً من مايو/ أيار المقبل كمرحلة أولى، على أن يتم تغطية مناطق البحرين كافة مع الربع الأول من العام المقبل 2008 بحيث تكون خدمة الإنترنت المجانية متوافره للجميع في البحرين. وقال: إن ” اختيار هذه المناطق تم نظراً إلى أن أعمال التوصيل للخدمة قد تمت فيها”. وأوضح الشيراوي في الاجتماع الأول لمشغلي الشبكات الشرق أوسطية (منوج) الذي بدأت أعماله أمس الأول وتختتم اليوم (الخميس) أن ذلك يأتي ضمن خطط الشركة لتوفير خدمة مجانية لهذه الوسيلة المهمة وهي الانترنت وتوفيرها، للجمهور، خصوصاً الفئات التي تكون في أمس الحاجة اليها ولا تتمكن من الحصول عليها نظراً لارتفاع رسومها الحالية، بالإضافة إلى الطلبة وغيرهم إذ إن شركة (2 كونيكت) قادرة على تقديم هذه الخدمة من خلال أعمالها، حيث تمتلك الشركة الرخصة العالمية لتقديم هذه الخدمة.
وأشار أنه لايوجد ما يمنع من تقديم الخدمة في البحرين. معرباً عن أمله في السير بهذا المشروع من دون أية معوقات.
وقال الشيراوي: انه حال الإعلان عن توافر هذه الخدمة في مناطق البحرين يمكن للراغبين في الحصول عليها التقدم بالطلبات للشركة، على أن تتولى الشركة توصيل هذه الخدمة له بالمجان.
وذكر أن مهمة توصيل خدمة الإنترنت سيترتب عليها كلفة معينة ستتحملها الشركة متوقعاً أن تحوز الشركة في المرحلة الأولى من تنفيذ المشروع على نحو 20 في المئة من مستخدمي خدمة الإنترنت في البحرين. وأضاف الشيراوي أن شركة (2 كونيكت) تقدم خدمات الإنترنت حالياً للشركات فقط، في حين أن خدماتها المجانية ستكون للأفراد فقط.
وكان اجتماع مشغلي شبكات الشرق أوسطية (منوج) واصل أعماله أمس ببحث موضوعات كثيرة بشأن أفضل السبل لتبادل المعلومات والدراية الفنية بين مشغلي الشبكات ومهندسي الشبكات، بالإضافة الى كون شبكات الاتصالات أصبحت بحاجة الى تطوير تعاونها القائم فيما بينها وهي مجموعة مشغلي الشبكات في المنطقة وتأمين الاستقرار المستقبلي لشبكات بروتكولات الإنترت إيلاف :: ٥ أبديل ٢٠٠٧
Fahad, where do I sign? The sooner I get rid of Batelco the better!
What the snippet of news above says is that 2Connect will be providing FREE Internet access to individuals in Bahrain starting in May, that’s in about 3 weeks time. It does poke at Batelco’s exorbitant pricing, obviously, there is no love lost between the two companies and I frankly don’t care; as long as real competition is provided to Batelco in order to force it to break up the monopoly it has over our lives, the better.
So yes, I shall be the first to switch to any carrier that strolls into my neighbourhood.
Let’s see if 2Connect actually now delivers, and there is no reason for it no to.
In the spirit of National Day and bountiful makramahs, can Your Majesty put some pressure on Batelco and get them to suck just a little less blood from us technophiles who cannot live without the Internet?
I implore you to do something about this Your Exalted Majesty, as no one of us could do anything about the situation, you know that some of us tried but no impact was felt whatsoever. In fact, that company, which is a wholly owned Bahraini company now, doesn’t give a rodent’s behind about your country, its citizen’s nor does it care about its residents and businesses either. It is not listening and will never listen unless either a political instruction is descended upon them to open up and allow businesses and individual creativity to flourish, or allow its competitions to really get the upper hand for a few years to sell their wares fairly while throttling the ultimate throttler.
You see, Your Majesty, Moore’s law suggests that everything in technology doubles in use but halves in cost every 18 months, that period of time has now shortened to just 3 months if you look at the various technological products and services the world over. Hard disks are approaching 1TB in capacity for a very reasonable price, a price that we happily paid for 1/10th of that capacity just a couple of years ago. The same thing with Internet speeds and available bandwidth; people in the developed and some in the not-so-developed worlds are enjoying speeds of 8MB (that’s a Big B Your Majesty, not a small one) paying not more than BD30 a month. In France, the telcos there started renting MacBooks with 1Mb connections for as little as 2 Euros a day; yet in your own blessed country, Your Majesty, we are being Royally shafted – if you would pardon my French as I cannot find a more appropriate term – by Your Company, the exalted Batelco for BD60 a month for a measly 2Mb (yes, that’s a small b) with a bandwidth limitation of just 20GB.
Let me tell you Your Majesty that this is a completely unfair package, and one that would encourage people and companies to migrate to a close-by country for the competitive nature of their just opened telecoms market. Being a patriot, of course I will not do that, but help me out here Your Majesty; I just upgarded to a 2Mb connection late last month, my first billing cycle was on Dec 3rd and already we have used all the limit of 20GB (so they say) that we are back down to a crawling 64kb which is absolutely criminal in this day and age.
Your Majesty, I’m not asking you to drop my loans, those I have taken willingly and am responsible enough to pay them on time with a smile. I am not even asking for a free internet connection, as you have seen Your Majesty, I have willingly upgraded my package recently and do not have any problem – in the absence of competition – to pay through the nose to keep it maintained and I will even effect a smile, but Your Majesty it is ludicrous to expect the Internet Generation to accept limits on usage. This is like telling us that we can only breath a specific volume and just make do with one shallow breath every five minutes and make do with that existence until the next billing cycle starts again and the Batelco Gods open the connection again!
Come on Your Majesty, please and double pretty please, can you give us an Internet makramah and tell those Batelco blood suckers to remove the limits? Judging by how they prefer the Jordanian market and how low their charges are, please don’t believe them when they tell you they can’t, they can and will. All you really need to do is put some pressure on them, and I for one will not shed a single tear for seeing the back of Peter K for the very last time. He, almost exclusively, has completely shafted the reputation of your country – please pardon my French again Your Majesty, but that’s the only appropriate expression I can think of at the moment.