Sunday 9 January 2022

Lebanon is Deliberating 5G Connectivity

Lebanon’s economic crisis has had a dire effect on the country’s telecom services. Although some progress has been made with developing 5G, the poor economic conditions have contributed to an erratic electricity supply and a lack of fuel to maintain generators. This has meant that internet services to areas of the country are cut on a regular basis, frustrating all those who depend on stable connectivity, and stalling business growth. Adding to the difficulties are the combined stresses of the pandemic and the political crisis. 

There are two operators in Lebanon: Touch (formerly MTC) managed by Zain and Alfa managed by Orascom.

Both of them are owned by the state, but each managed by a foreign telecom company. 2G/GSM is on 900 MHz up to EDGE, 3G on 2100 MHz up to HSPA+ and 4G/LTE has started on both networks on 1800 MHz (Band 3) in 2013. During 2016 both Touch and Alfa implemented substantial 4G/LTE upgrades and expansions. In 2017 there was 85% 4G/LTE coverage of population across most parts of Lebanon. Service quality is quite good, fast and reliable.

Touch, previously called MTC, is state-owned, was managed by the Kuwaiti Zain group. It's the leading provider in Lebanon with about 2/3 of the customer base and the best coverage in 2G and 3G. 4G/LTE has been spread to over 85% of the population in 2017.

Touch has launched the country’s first 5G mobile site, located at its headquarters in downtown Beirut in September 2016. Data speeds of 1.4Gbps were tested at the site, with latency of less than 6ms.

Alfa is state-owned too, but this operator was managed by Egypt-based Orascom Telecom. It calls itself "the leading mobile provider in Lebanon" but in fact is the smaller of the two operators with only 1/3 of all customers.

Yet it's coverage is quite on par and they offer a few more options than the market leader. They have also conducted their own 5G trial.

Recently the Lebanese government has resumed management of state-owned operators Alfa and Touch after operating contracts held by Orascom Telecom Media and Technology (OTMT) and Zain Group, respectively, expired. Minister of Telecommunications Talal Hawat said an international tender for new contracts would be readied within three months, covering management and operation of the businesses.

GSMA Intelligence figures showed Touch held a 50.6 per cent market share by connections at end-2019, with Alfa accounting for the remaining 49.3 per cent.

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