Brunei Darussalam to build ICT opportunities

Proposed regulatory reforms are set to give a boost to Brunei Darussalam’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector, an area of the economy that the government has targeted for growth.

In mid-February, Hj Yahkup Hj Menudin, CEO of the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry (AITI), the state agency charged with both developing and regulating the ICT sector, said his organisation was looking to boost competition in the market.

A review of policies is under way, with the objective of streamlining the process for licence applications, as well as improving licensing terms and conditions for telcos and broadcasters, both of which fall under the purview of AITI.

According to Hj Yahkup, a new licensing framework would allow the regulator to introduce a new competition code, which would facilitate entry by smaller entities and boost innovation in the market.

“This is AITI’s vision to create vibrant ICT industry with more new players coming into the markets providing more new innovative services and more choices for consumers,” he said.

A chance to grow

Giving a boost to the ICT industry is among the goals of the government, which is hoping to raise the sector’s contribution to GDP from around 2% today to 6% by 2015.

Of the roughly 200 registered ICT firms operating in the Sultanate, the majority are resellers, distributors and hardware vendors, mainly importing hardware and software.

A report issued in mid-February by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) showed that imports of ICT products totalled $147m in 2012, equivalent to 4.12% of merchandise imports. On the positive side of the ledger were ICT exports, which rose to $36m in 2012, almost four times the figure from 2006.

Local demand is evident, as uptake of ICT products within the community is extensive. Mobile phone penetration rates reached 120% in 2013 and at least 80% of homes have one laptop. These figures will continue to rise, the Ministry of Communications has forecast, with both computer and phone ownership rates set to climb as more homes and businesses are connected to the new fibre optic network and telecos step up the roll out of 4G services.

As of the end of 2013, almost 12,000 households had been linked to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service, with a total of 45,000 to be wired up within three years, as part of a $180m upgrade of the network infrastructure aimed at boosting internet speeds and reliability.

Another significant advancement in 2013 was the doubling of average download speeds, a result of expansions in the country’s international bandwidth and the extension of fibre-based high-speed broadband services. In early February, AITI reported that the average download speed had improved from the 2012 rate of 2.27 megabytes per second (Mbps) to 4.83 Mbps, while upload speeds had increased from 0.96 Mbps to 3.29 Mbps.

Ready to rise

These advances have been recognised by the World Economic Forum in its annual Network Readiness Index, with Brunei Darussalam steadily climbing up the global rankings. Since 2010 it has risen from 63 out of 144 countries on the index, which measures the impact of and access to ICT on a society and its economy, to 57 last year.

Developments such as the roll out of the FTTH, 4G services and higher phone and computer penetration rates will help promote the cause of the indigenous ICT industry, with the stronger infrastructure backbone and improved speeds and access likely to encourage greater usage by both the general public and businesses. This in turn is expected to boost sales of ICT products.

Though the opportunities are there, not all of Brunei Darussalam’s ICT firms have fully embraced them, according to Minister of Communications Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah Bakar. Addressing a business forum on January 25, the minister said local ICT suppliers needed to do more to build on the existing network readiness. Both the commercial and retail segments offer potential for growth, he said, something industry players can leverage and develop.

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