Alfa launches first LTE-A network in Lebanon

Cellular antennas on tower

Alfa, the state-backed Lebanese mobile operator that is run by Orascom Telecom Media and Technology (OTMT), claimed a market first with the launch of an LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network in Lebanon.

Nokia said the network is based on its carrier aggregation technology and promises to increase download speeds to up to 262.5 Mbps through the combination of 20 MHz on the 1800 MHz frequency band with 15 MHz on the 800 MHz band.

Alfa has in fact signed 4.5G and 5G contracts with both Ericsson and Nokia and said it sees the LTE-A deployment as “a crucial step” that will enable it to move towards 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). It also appears to have set itself the rather ambitious target of installing its first 5G site in Lebanon in 2018.

The operator added that these agreements form part of the Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications' National 2020 Digital Telecom Vision to upgrade the country's Internet infrastructure and deploy LTE-A across the Lebanese territory.

TeleGeography reported in March that Touch, the other state-backed mobile operator, signed ‘4.5G’ agreements with Huawei and Nokia for the expansion of its LTE network.

However, the situation on Lebanon’s telecoms market remains somewhat up in the air since it seems that the government has yet to implement plans to introduce more competition in the sector.

Last year, the telecoms ministry had been working towards establishing an integrated state-owned telecoms operator called Liban Telecom by merging the operations of Ogero (the government-owned fixed-line operator) and two directorates of the Telecom Ministry.

Lebanon's telecommunications minister, Boutros Harb, previously told The Daily Star that following the establishment of Liban Telecom, the government intended to bring in a strategic partner such as Vodafone or Orange with an equity stake of 40 per cent. However, in August 2015 Vodafone dropped out of the race to gain a Lebanese management contract that would have seen it run one of the country's two government-owned mobile operators.

The news agency said that Kuwait's Zain, which has been in charge of Touch -- the biggest Lebanese operator -- since 2004, and OTMT -- which has run Alfa since 2009 -- had been running the operators on short-term rolling contracts after a long-term deal ended in 2013. The short-term contracts had continued because of government instability, Reuters reported.

The two government contracts were again put out to tender on Sept. 8 with a deadline for submissions of Dec. 8, 2015. However, TeleGeography reported that the tender had failed and the government extended the management contracts for Touch and Alfa for a further month from Jan 1, 2016.

For more:
- see this TeleGeography article
- see this separate TeleGeography article
- see this Nokia release

Related articles:
Vodafone Group leaves race for Lebanese mobile operator management
Lebanon targets nationwide 4G coverage in 2 years
Libya's LPTIC consolidates telecoms assets in sub-Saharan Africa
Zain rebrands in Lebanon
Alfa picks Astellia for 3G optimization

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