Qatar mobile network hindered by access to land use
The recent release of ictQATAR’s Regulatory Strategy 2013 to 2016 outlines the priorities of the regulatory authority in upcoming years. A public consultation on the draft strategy revealed that service providers were severely hindered in their network rollout plans by the impediments to land use in Qatar.
According to a document released by ictQATAR that contained the responses submitted during the consultation, telecommunications companies have cited the challenges in securing access to land for installation of infrastructure as one of the biggest impediments to the development of their mobile network infrastructure. Among the barriers to entry stated included the ability of large property developers to deny access to telecommunications service providers and in some cases dictate the terms of access, stated the response submitted by Ooredoo.
The firm’s responses suggest that Vodafone Qatar also suffers from similar difficulties in acquiring sites to build infrastructure. Both telcos have tried to address this problem by deploying what are know as Cell on Wheels (COW), a cellular antenna attached to a truck that can be moved around and integrated into the existing infrastructure. This has however resulted in poor network quality due to the lack of stability in the cell network, claimed Ooredoo.
According to comments in the report, across the nine markets in which Ooredoo operates, the number of COWs in its mobile network in Qatar is the largest, despite it being one the smallest markets they operate in. COWs represent less than one percent of mobile sites across all of Ooredoo’s networks, meanwhile in Qatar it represents more than 10 percent of the network.
30% - Of Vodafone Qatar’s mobile network is made up of cell on wheels (COW).
Vodafone Qatar stated that it had not received a permit to build a site on government land for the past two years and as a result 30 percent of their sites are made up of COWs. Vodafone Qatar also noted in its report that while ictQATAR has introduced some initiatives to improve the site sharing between operators, it would welcome a standardised approval process whereby existing towers could be upgraded for the purpose of sharing, especially since access to government land remains an issue.
Ooredoo contended that, “Many of the difficulties currently experienced by all licensees could be mitigated or avoided with the right leadership from the government.” Predictions from Ooredoo suggest they will need to deploy as many as 300 additional mobile sites by 2016 to support its network, with Vodafone expected to require deploying just as many.
While it is much easier to secure access to private land for deploying mobile infrastructure, obtaining planning approvals and other permissions are “unnecessarily time-consuming and cumbersome,” stated Ooredoo. Building permits for 24 Ooredoo mobile sites approved in 2012 were the result of “months of frustration and inaction and finally escalation to high-level meeting between Ooredoo and the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP),” claimed Ooredoo, “Even with such high level intervention, the average length of time for approval for such sites was over 180 days.”
As such, streamlining the government approval process and expediting the issuance of building permits is one of the recommendations Ooredoo made to the draft regulatory strategy. It also recommended that the MMUP and other government agencies insulate the approval process from undue influence of individuals opposed to tower construction.
According to the Ooredoo consultation, local opposition is based on aesthetic concerns and in some cases the fears regarding the effect of radio emissions on personal health.
In the Regulatory Strategy 2013 to 2016, ictQATAR acknowledged “the current arrangements have made it difficult for them to meet quality of service licence obligations”. It also noted that reducing the barriers to building out networks will have the potential to drive improvements in the quality of service. Following the public consultation process, ictQATAR has promised to implement a range of policies and other regulatory instruments to improve the site approval process, and the use of government land with regards to mobile infrastructure deployment.