Lebanon targets nationwide 4G coverage in 2 years

Lebanon's telecommunications minister, Boutros Harb, targeted country-wide 4G deployment in two years as part of a new five-year plan for the telecoms market unveiled this week.

Under Lebanon 2020 Digital Telecom Vision, the government has set out a wide range of objectives that also include the rollout of a fibre broadband network across the country by 2020. According to a report in The Daily Star, Harb said that only 16 per cent of Lebanon is currently covered by a 4G connection, while most of the country is still working on 2G and 3G.

"We have been receiving a lot of complaints regarding the malfunction of the Internet connectivity. This is why we need to work hard on developing this project," he said.

The minister also announced an ambitious goal to offer 5G connectivity in 2020--about the time that 5G network deployments are expected to start on a global basis.

The total project is expected to cost over $600 million (€540 million), and is also designed to attract foreign investment to Lebanon, Harb added.

Lebanon currently has two mobile networks, which are operated on behalf of the government by Kuwait's Zain Group (under the Touch brand) and Egypt's Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding (under the Alfa brand). Both operators have over 4 million subscribers, according to The Daily Star.

The mobile groups operate the networks under short-term contracts that were recently extended to the end of 2015. However, the government has now launched an international public tender for the management of the existing two mobile networks in Lebanon for a three-year term.

The deadline for bids was Jun. 30, and the results will be announced on Sep. 8. Successful MNOs will have to fulfil certain criteria, including the requirement to have a net worth of at least $5 billion.

Applicants must also prove that they have been providing mobile services on a continuous basis for the past five years over one or more mobile networks owned or managed by the MNO to at least 10 million active subscribers, of which at least 3 million must be on one single network.

The Daily Star noted that neither Zain nor Orascom have confirmed whether or not they will participate in the new tender, and the operators did not respond to requests for confirmation.

However, both Zain's Touch and Orascom's Alfa recently reiterated their commitment to the future development of the country's telecoms market: Zain by appointing "telecom stalwart" Peter Kaliaropoulos as CEO for Zain in Lebanon, and Alfa by stating it was "just a few steps away" from launching LTE Advanced services.

The government's ultimate goal is to establish an integrated state-owned telecoms operator called Liban Telecom through merging the operations of Ogero (the government-owned fixed-line operator) and two directorates of the Telecom Ministry.

Harb previously told The Daily Star that following the establishment of Liban Telecom, the government intends to bring a strategic partner such as Vodafone or Orange with an equity stake of 40 per cent. The overall objective is to motivate the other mobile providers to compete with the national company in providing better quality and prices.

For more:
- see this article from The Daily Star
- see this separate article from The Daily Star
- see this third article from The Daily Star
- see this tender announcement from the Lebanese government
- see this Alfa release
- see this Zain Touch release

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