Brunei Darussalam - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband
Brunei's B-Mobile re-emerges as Progresif Cellular
This report looks at the telecommunications market in Brunei Darussalam. A small wealthy nation in South East Asia, Brunei made early moves to ensure that it was delivering up to date telecommunications services to its population. The target of 100% digitalisation was achieved back in 1995. Telecommunications infrastructure and services throughout Brunei are of a generally high standard and the country ranks well in Asia in terms of both telecom service penetration and infrastructure facilities. Brunei's mobile penetration has continued to expand and coming into 2014 it had reached a penetration of 115% (although it had fallen back to 110% by end-2014). Growth in total mobile subscribers had generally slowed in recent years as customers moved to take up mobile broadband offerings.
By contrast to the strong mobile market, the fixed-line segment has been completely overwhelmed by emergence of a strong mobile sector. Earlier on, before mobile services gained the ascendancy, the government set a national goal of a 40% fixed-line penetration rate by 2001; it came as no surprise that Jabatan Telekom Brunei (JTB), the incumbent telecom operator, fell well short of this target as the industry focus swung strongly towards mobile services. The country actually reached just over 26% fixed-line penetration by 2001; fixed-line services have been in a steady decline ever since (falling to 11% by end-2014).
It is not surprising that the citizens of Brunei are strong consumers of telecom services, given the level of encouragement coming from the government and the high level of GDP per capita. Despite the overall positive situation, if the country is to maintain the pace required to be globally competitive, it must further restructure and generally liberalise the local telecom industry. Brunei's telecom regulator, the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry (AITI), was established in 2003. Although seen as a positive step, the creation of a new regulator has not really accelerated telecom reform to any extent.
The local market has continued to be dominated first by JTB and then by Telekom Brunei (TelBru), JTB's corporatised successor; although there are plans to privatise the incumbent telco, it remains for the time being under the wing of the government. It was a significant step in 2006, when the Department of Economic Planning and Development announced the corporatisation of JTB. However, much more remains to be done in the area of sector reform.
For some time the country's telecom regulator, the AITI, had been expressing concern about the performance of mobile operator B-Mobile. The smaller of the two mobile operators, B-Mobile had managed to maintain a subscriber base of close to 20% of the country's total mobile market up until 2012. However, it had been experiencing serious network performance problems and was also rumoured to be struggling financially. In a surprise move, parent Telekom Brunei submitted a petition to Brunei's Supreme Court in 2013 seeking to wind up its subsidiary B-Mobile. The mobile operator was continuing to function into 2014, but there remained major issues to be addressed. A meeting of creditors in early 2014 signalled a new phase in developments. B-Mobile was acquired by investment company Darussalam Assets in July 2014. (Darussalam Assets was established by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to manage the government's investments in affiliate companies. The operator was re-branded Progresif Cellular.
While Brunei's economy is not heavily exposed to the global capital markets, the 2008/2009 global financial crisis did impact on Brunei. Although the country's banks were also well placed to manage any period of economic difficulty, the country was definitely not isolated from what was happening globally. The fall in oil prices triggered by the global economic crisis and subsequent decline in energy production saw Brunei's GDP contract by almost 2% in 2008 and again in 2009. The economy recovered sufficiently for GDP growth to be positive again by 2010, returning an annual growth rate of nearly 3% and repeating this in 2011. Growth has since been somewhat weak and/or negative. The IMF had forecast annual growth of -1% for Brunei in 2015.
Brunei's mobile market reached a penetration of 115% coming into 2014; Coming into 2015, however, penetration had eased downwards to 110%; Fixed-line penetration in Brunei, having reached a healthy 26% by 2001, has been in steady decline for some years, slipping right down to 11% coming into 2015; Around 95% of Brunei's internet subscribers have high-speed broadband access, with around half of these on a mobile broadband platform; The government had issued a National Broadband Blueprint, with a primary objective being to increase the ICT industry's contribution to GDP to 6% by 2015; Mobile operator B-Mobile having encountered financial problems was taken over by a Ministry of Finance investment company in 2014; The operator was re-branded Progresif Cellular shortly after the takeover; TelBru launched a Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) service in late 2015; The AITI issued a Consultation Paper for its development of a Tariff Regulation Framework; There remained strong pressure on the country to address economic issues, including diversifying its economic base and improving its annual growth rate; GDP fell in both 2013 and 2014 and looked likely to do so again in 2015, according to the IMF; However the IMF was forecasting stronger performance for Brunei in 2016;
Companies mentioned in this report
Telekom Brunei Bhd (TelBru); Data Stream Technologies Communications Sdn Bhd (DSTCom); B-Mobile; Progresif Cellular; Darussalam Assets; Jabatan Telekom Brunei (JTB); BruNet.