Vodafone Group leaves race for Lebanese mobile operator management

Vodafone Group dropped out of the race to gain a Lebanese management contract that would have seen it run one of the county's two government-owned mobile operators, Reuters reported.

Lebanon's Telecom Ministry is 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 intends to bring a strategic partner such as Vodafone or Orange onboard 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.

However, Vodafone told Reuters it has "decided not to pursue the opportunity in the Lebanon," for undisclosed reasons. "[W]e have no further comment to make beyond this", the operator added.

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

While six mobile operators tendered for the two management contracts, only four submitted bids by the government's deadline after Vodafone's decision not to bid, and a failure by OTMT to submit an offer on time, Reuters said.

The results of the bids, which will be worth a three-year management term each, will be announced on 8 September, The Daily Star reported.

Lebanon's government has set out a wide range of objectives that also include the rollout of a fibre broadband network across the country by 2020, as part of a strategy named Lebanon 2020 Digital Telecom Vision.

Harb told the The Daily Star 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.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this The Daily Star story
- see this Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications statement

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