Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb unveiled Wednesday a five-year plan to revamp Lebanon’s telecoms infrastructure, assuring that Internet users across the country would enjoy fiber-optic connectivity by the year 2020.
“Fiber optic networks will be installed in Lebanon progressively over five years and the country will be totally connected through this technology by the year 2020,” Harb said during a ceremony held at the Grand Serail and attended by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, ministers, ambassadors, and representatives of the private sector and the media.
Harb said the ministry would also roll out 4G services to cover the whole country in two years, in preparation for the launching of the 5G connection by the year 2020.
The minister said that only 16 percent 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.
Salam emphasized the importance of the project, stressing that it would attract foreign investments into Lebanon.
Harb said that the cost of implementing this new five-year plan is not too high compared to the losses incurred by Lebanon in the absence of such an important technology.
“The project will cost over $600 million but it will be fully covered by the budget of the Telecommunications Ministry,” he said.
“This project will attract foreign investments to Lebanon while providing new job opportunities,” Harb said.
“This is why we are urging CSOs [civil society organizations], local institutions, municipalities and the media to play a role in spreading this culture and informing people about the benefits of such a plan.”
He said that the telecommunications sector should contribute to economic development, in addition to curbing unemployment and improving productivity.
Harb slashed the prices of communication and Internet services within weeks of replacing former Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, reducing tariffs on local and international calls and cellular fees.
The new changes resulted in an increase in the number of landline subscribers by 120,000 over a year and a half, while the number of digital line (DSL) subscribers went up by 100,000 for the same period of time, according to Harb.
“These changes have led to an increase in Internet penetration from 70 percent in 2013 to 86 percent in 2015,” he said. “This shows how badly the Lebanese market needs advanced technologies.”
Harb said that he has also allocated money for the upgrade of the DSL network in Lebanon by introducing the VDSL2 technology at around 36 centers in Beirut and other Lebanese territories, increasing the Internet speed to between 30 Mbps and 50 Mbps.
“Ogero will soon launch an advertising campaign to inform citizens about this service,” he said.
Harb explained that this upgrade to the DSL network is only a preparation for the adoption of fiber optic in the next phase.
Among the major changes implemented by Harb in the past few months is the creation of technical workshops for connecting fiber optics to more than 40 new centers in rural areas. A fiber-optic network already exists in Lebanon but for the time being it only connects centers together.
“The ministry has, in the past three years, installed fiber optics, connecting centers together all over Lebanon. But this is not enough, as there is no connection to people’s households, schools, universities and offices,” explained Naji Andraos, director of equipment and construction at the Telecommunications Ministry, in a speech delivered during the ceremony.
“Fiber to the home” (FTTH) is the delivery of a communications signal over fiber-optics cables from the operator’s switching equipment all the way to a home or business, thereby replacing existing copper infrastructure such as telephone wires and coaxial cables.
FTTH is a relatively new and a fast-growing method of providing much higher bandwidth to consumers and businesses, thereby enabling more robust video, Internet and audio services. Fiber-optic Internet can go up to 100 Mbps, compared to copper, which is 8 Mbps at best.
“What is needed today is way more advanced than the copper used to provide DSL services,” Harb said.
He explained that the fiber-optic project includes the creation of a fiber-optic network that connects directly to organizations, covering around 15,000 commercial, banking, financial and economic institutions for the time being. Another fiber-optic network will directly connect to households and offices.
Harb said that he has already launched three pilot projects in a bid to evaluate the quality of fiber optics. “One of the projects is located in Ras Masqa in Koura, where fiber optics were connected and it succeeded in providing a connection of over 100 Mbps to people there,” he said.
His remarks were echoed by the head of state-owned telecoms operator Ogero, Abdel Moneim Youssef, who said that the Ras Masqa project is considered to be a successful example. He added that another pilot project was successfully implemented in the Beirut 2020 building.
Youssef said that Lebanon has used 15 million GB in 2007 compared to 45 million GB in 2010, 155 million GB and 310 million GB in 2014. “We still have hopes to seize the opportunity in five years to promote and enhance our connectivity as fast as possible in order not to be taken back by the great wave of data,” he said.
“Our aim with this new plan is to transform all Internet circulation pathways from Internet entry points to the final users today,” he added.
By Dana Halawi
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