No Licensing of WiFi and Bluetooth in Bahrain sign now

The General Director
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)
P.O. Box 10353
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Email: [email protected] (cc: [email protected])

SUBJECT: Response to Consultation on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Frequency Licensing Regulation

20 July 2006

Dear sir:

We are a group of Bahraini citizens who have joined with Stichting Open Spectrum (a nonprofit foundation based in the Netherlands) to submit comments objecting to the proposed licensing of short-range radiocommunication devices which utilise the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands.

However, we welcome the opportunity to comment on the TRA's draft regulation for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Frequency Licensing. This consultation comes soon after the 27 June 2006 release of the TRA/MoT joint statement on "Spectrum Policy and Planning". We believe that ambiquities in the consultation document issued last November on "Spectrum Policy and Planning" undermined that consultation, so some of its conclusions deserve further review.

For that reason, our comments below respond both to the current consultation and to issues raised by the "Spectrum Policy and Planning" consultation.


RESPONSE TO THE 2.4 GHz AND 5 GHz FREQUENCY LICENSING CONSULTATION

The main question asked in the current consultation is:

"Does the automated on-line application system proposed by the draft Regulation meet the needs of the telecommunications industry and the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain for a simple and efficient frequency license application process for the 2.4 GHz frequency spectrum and for the 5 GHz (Band A or Band C) frequency spectrum, taking into account the requirement of the Telecommunications Law as it currently stands?"

A brief summary of our response is that the proposed system takes into account the requrements of the Telecommunications Law as it currently stands, but it does not meet the needs of the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The people of Bahrain do not have any need for a license application process for WiFi, Bluetooth, cordless phones, wireless hearing aids, nor for any other low power, low interference devices used in the ISM bands, regardless of how simple the application process is. Licenses for short-range wireless devices are an unnecessary burden imposed by the Telecommunications Law, which can only hinder the Kingdom's economic and social development.

Section 32 of the Telecommunications Law allows "class" licensing for telecommunication networks, but unfortunately not for those using radio frequencies. This is the root of the problem. By preventing TRA from issuing class licenses for short-range radiocommunication devices as most other countries do Bahrain's Telecommunications Law requires written applications for individual licenses not just for WiFi and Bluetooth, but for all wireless "telecommunication" equipment, including GSM handsets, cordless phones, baby monitors, remotely monitored sensor networks used by the oil and gas industry, and possibly even individual RFID tags. Proposals in the current consultation paper will even require individuals to apply for a license for a Bluetooth link between their computer and mouse.

Because of its experience with practical implementation problems, understanding of communications technology and familiarity with solutions reached by other countries, TRA is in the best position to identify shortcomings in the Telecommunications Law and suggest improvements.


WHAT DEVICES MUST BE LICENSED?

According to page 2 of the consultation document:

"Every person wishing to use radio frequency spectrum in the Kingdom of Bahrain must hold a frequency license from the TRA, as required by section 43 of the law promulgated by Legislative Decree No. 48 of 2002 (the 'Telecommunications Law')..."

However, that is not what section 43 of Legislative Decree No. 48 of 2002 actually says. Section 43 says (in the English translation):

"No person shall operate a telecommunications network which uses radio frequency spectrum in the Kingdom, or operate or use any radiocommunications equipment associated with such a network without obtaining a license therefor from the Authority."

Not all radio frequencies are "telecommunications frequencies". Section 9.2.2 of the consultation document acknowledges that "the 2.4 GHz band in Bahrain has been allocated to ISM use..." (ISM stands for Industrial, Scientific and Medical devices - a category separate from telecommunications.) Microwave ovens, for example, use radio frequencies but not for telecommunication. Thus, residents of Bahrain do not need to apply for an individual license for their microwave oven. Is that not correct? If it is, then the claim made on page 2 of the consultation document is wrong. But if we are wrong, then microwave ovens should be included in the online application process for frequency licenses.

The second article of the Telecommunications Law also excludes "services used by the Bahrain Defence Forces and all security organs" from the definition of "telecommunication". This could be to exempt them from the requirement of applying for licenses, and if so, this also contradicts the claim on page 2 of the consultation document.

On the other hand, the Law's definition of "telecommunications" is so broad that it must pull far more than WiFi and Bluetooth into TRA's proposed license application system. In particular, cordless phones whether designed for 2.4 GHz or for some other band clearly fall within the definition of devices for which individual license applications are required; they are specifically mentioned in the Law's definition of "Telecommunications Frequency", quoted above. GSM handsets are likewise "used for or in connection with Mobile Radiocommunications" so they must be individually licensed. In addition, the oil and gas industry makes extensive use of wireless sensor networks for the remote monitoring of wellheads, pipelines and production/storage site perimeters. These appear to be "telecommunication" devices for which license applications must be made. The definition of "telecommunications" is even broad enough to require license applications for individual RFID tags.

So TRA should anticipate the use of their online application system for many more types of devices thousands, if not millions of devices - whose locations will be all but impossible to verify because most of them are "nomadic". Is there really a need for such documentation?


OTHER FLAWS IN THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS LAW

Section 50 paragraph 2 of the Telecommunications Law says: "The frequency license holder and its employees and agents may not use a secret sign or code in messages and conversations over the telecommunications network in contravention of the provisions of this Law and the regulations issued for the enforcement of this Law..."

This seems to forbid the use of WEP and other encryption protocols normally used to secure WiFi links from interception by eavesdroppers and "bandwidth thieves". It may also forbid the use of encryption in the oil and gas industry's wireless sensor networks, creating an obvious security risk. This part of the law is clearly against the interests and needs of the Bahraini people and of businesses operating in this country. Section 50 may also forbid the use of encryption in RFID tags. As TRA surely knows, many governments are considering embedding RFID tags in passports. Concerns have been raised about the unauthorised interception of the personal data carried in these tags. If encryption is forbidden in RFID tags in passports, this could create problems for foreign visitors whose passport RFID chips are encrypted as well as risks for Bahraini citizens with insecure RFID-enabled passports due to the Telecommunications Law.

As noted above, Section 43 of the Telecommunications Law says:

"No person shall operate a telecommunications network which uses radio frequency spectrum in the Kingdom, or operate or use any radiocommunications equipment associated with such a network without obtaining a license therefor from the Authority."

"Uses" and "associated with" are unfortunately broad terms, and neither distinguishes between intentional and unintentional emissions. Since all flows of electricity are "associated" with the emission of radio energy, all electronic communication "uses" the radio spectrum. Strictly speaking, then, no telecommunications network is eligible for the "class license" discussed in Section 32 and all wired Ethernets which do not use shielded coaxial cables need individual licenses. A better alternative would be to speak of "intentional use" rather than "use" in general.

Finally, the Law's definition of "License" distinguishes between Telecommunications licenses and Frequency Licenses. Unfortunately, this distinction is then blurred by the composite term "Telecommunications Frequency" and also by what seems to be a drafting error in Section 44. The section is titled "GRANT OF A FREQUENCY LICENSE" - but this is followed by a paragraph on applying for a Telecommunications License. The law's drafters seem to be confused about whether they mean a "Frequency License" or a "Telecommunications License. Perhaps they mean a "Telecommunications Frequency License"?


SOLVING THESE PROBLEMS

The Law indicates that the ban on radio encryption in Section 50 is open to adjustment through regulatory and enforcement policies. The 2.4 and 5 GHz licenses might be written to deal with the problems noted above - but we urge TRA to issue these as class licenses rather than as individual licenses.

We noted above that the Telecommunications Law defines "telecommunications" so as to exclude all services used by the Bahrain Defence Forces and "security organs". It might be possible for TRA to adopt a regulatory definition (as other countries have done) so as to exclude RFID, sensor nets, short-range devices and even WiFi from the category of "telecommunications" for enforcement purposes. That would eliminate the need for licensing such equipment, or make it eligible for class licensing.

As the International Telecommunications Union noted in its 2004-5 survey of Trends in Telecommunication Reform:

"...more and more policy-makers are questioning the utility of licensing and demanding that licences be adapted to achieve policy goals without hindering market development and technological advancement... The allocation of spectrum for licence-exempt use is increasingly viewed as a catalyst for the development of more efficient and cost-effective wireless technologies. By late 2004, 55 countries had allocated spectrum for unlicensed use..."

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Gary WelchBy:
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Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain

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