There are notable differences in the way telecommunications are regulated across the Middle East.

A comparison of the regulatory frameworks in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE provides an insight into the distinct licensing obligations facing operators. There are also separate rules governing interconnection and access rights, the importation of equipment, and matters of consumer protection, as well as variations in the enforcement regimes that apply. Here we look at the regulation of telecoms in Qatar. Other guides look at Bahrain and the UAE.

The market

The telecoms market in Qatar is a duopoly between Ooredoo, the incumbent telecoms operator formerly known as Qtel, and Vodafone Qatar. Each offers mobile, broadband and fixed line services.

QNBN was incorporated by the government to provide passive dark fibre network infrastructure to telecommunication service providers on a wholesale basis, and owners and operators of private networks on a retail basis.

Qatar is considered one of the regional leaders in terms of its telecoms maturity, having one of the highest fixed and mobile penetrations in the world. 

The regulator

The Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) was established in 2014 as an independent regulator when the previous regulator, ictQatar, separated from the Ministry of Communications Technology – now the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC). The CRA regulates the telecoms and information technology sector, postal services and access to digital media in the state of Qatar. 

Regulated activities and licensing

Chapter 3 of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 and Chapter 2 of Qatar Executive By-Law No. 1/2009 deal with licensing.

A licence is required to:

  • provide telecommunications services to the public in return for a direct or indirect fee, whether the services are provided to all the public or a segment thereof, including the resale of telecommunications services obtained from another person, even if only one person benefits from such a service;
  • own or operate a telecommunications network used for the provision of telecommunications services to or for the public in return for a direct or indirect fee; and/or
  • own or operate any other telecommunications network.

Licences are only issued to companies registered in Qatar.

There are individual licences for mobile and fixed services, public satellite services and VSAT (very-small-aperture terminal) and class licences for type approved camel racing equipment and short range devices.

The CRA sets the conditions and criteria for the licensing and approval for telecoms services and has the authority to grant, amend, suspend, revoke or refuse to renew individual licenses on the proposal of the Secretary General, and the Secretary General has the same rights as the CRA in relation to class licenses. A telecoms licence typically lasts 25 years.

Qatar Executive By-Law No. 1/2009 sets out the procedure for amendment, suspension, revocation or non-renewal of a licence and includes a requirement for the licensee to be given notice regarding the intended action and sufficient time to prepare comments on this, request comments from other interested parties or the general public and study the comments received.

Equipment importation

Companies registered in Qatar who wish to import and deal in RTTE (radio and telecommunications terminal equipment), including  global system for mobile communications  (GSM) phones, are required to hold an import authorisation licence from the CRA.

Similarly, local or international manufacturers, service providers, authorised importers, local dealers, individuals or companies wishing to import RTTE for their own use must apply for a type approval certificate from the CRA as required by the type approval guidelines for radio equipment and telecommunications terminal equipment, dated 9 January 2011 and issued by ictQatar.

A type approval certificate is granted if the equipment complies with the standards recognised by CRA. Details regarding the application process and applicable fees are displayed on the CRA and MoTC websites.

Access and interconnection

Access and interconnection is governed by Chapter 5 of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 and Chapter 4 of Qatar Executive By-Law No. 1/2009. These laws are complemented by the Qatar Access Regulation, the Mobile Site Sharing Instruction and other related legal instruments.

Individual licenses also contain obligations relating to access and interconnection, along with Ooredoo's reference infrastructure access offer (RIAO) and associated orders.

Service providers are required to negotiate access and interconnection agreements with other service providers on request and in good faith within a specified time period and on terms that will not cause damage or harm to people, property, its facilities or its network, failing which the CRA may determine the agreement.

Dominant service providers are required to meet heightened obligations in relation to access and interconnection, to issue RIAOs, to enter into agreements with service providers on the terms of those RIAOs, and to provide a signed copy to the CRA. Service providers are also required to enter into site sharing agreements, and to provide a signed copy to the CRA.

The Qatar Access Regulation applies to owners, builders or controllers of passive civil infrastructure, and requires access providers to develop standard access offers approved by the CRA.

Interconnection prices are regulated insofar as article 19(1) of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 mandates the CRA with "promoting appropriate, effective and low cost interconnection between telecommunications networks".

Service providers can ask the CRA to clarify and interpret obligations of access and interconnection on request.

The CRA published dispute resolution procedures in February 2015 which provide an effective mechanism for handling access and interconnection related disputes among service providers and between service providers and their stakeholders.

Consumer protection and rights

Chapter 10 of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006, together with the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Policy published in January 2014, establishes the basis of consumer protection in Qatar.

The policy is binding on service providers. It covers, among other things, issues such as advertising and sales which should not be misleading; provision of transparent information to consumers in relation to service terms, tariffs and charges before they enter into a contract for telecoms services; billing which must be accurate and clear; internal complaints; service quality and dispute resolution.

Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 also mandates fair dealing practices which are also covered under the consumer protection policy. Chapter 9 of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 provides more detail regarding a service provider's obligations to consumers and contains additional requirements pertaining to invoicing and record retention. Article 49 and 70 of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 provide penalties for breach of the consumer protection policy of up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to QAR 100,000 ($27,000).

Penalties and sanctions for breach of telecoms laws

Chapter 16 of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 deals with penalties and sanctions. It provides that any person that commits an act contravening the provisions of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006 can be subject to imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to QAR 2 million ($549,000), depending on the offence.

For corporate entities, the person responsible for the management of the corporate entity can be punished with the same penalties.

Qatar Law No. 17/2017 Amending the Telecommunications Law Promulgated by Law No. 34/2006 provides for the CRA to establish a 'Financial Sanctions Committee' which can impose financial sanctions of between QAR 2,000 to 5 million ($549 to $1.37m) for certain violations of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006.

The Financial Sanctions Committee, which has recently been approved, will enable the CRA to impose financial sanctions on licensees for violations of Qatar Decree-Law No. 34/2006, Qatar Executive By-Law No. 1/2009 and the decisions and licenses issued under those laws.