Third generation (3G) mobile services will revolutionise Lebanon’s economy when introduced in September, according to an interview with MTC Touch boss Claude Bassil by Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star.

The telecommunication operator is rolling out a 3.9G HSPA+ network which will provide broadband internet speeds of up to 42Mb/s, and the resultant ability for customers to access data rich services such as video streaming and mobile TV, as well as experiencing higher call quality.

MTC Touch’s competitor, Alfa, is also readying itself for the launch of 3G services across its mobile network, having successfully completed its first 3.5G test video call in April. Alfa expects to offer next generation services to subscribers in Lebanon before the end of 2011.

“We believe that 3G is going to be a revolution in Lebanon just like mobile [phones] were a revolution in 1994,” Claude Bassil, general manager, MTC Touch, told The Daily Star.

Given the country’s faulty fixed line infrastructure, consumers increasingly turned to mobile networks for higher quality communications for their business, explained the head of MTC Touch. He told the newspaper that he believes 3G mobile will now provide a far better alternative to DSL, currently the de facto standard for the often poor PC connection to the internet in Lebanon.

“There will be a whole industry that will be around 3G…and there will be a tremendous demand just like in the rest of the world,” Mr Bassil is quoted as saying.

Projected 3G user figures of 80,000 in Lebanon by the end of 2011 are described as far too low by Mr Bassil, who points to the example of neighbouring Jordan, which reached the government’s first year target of 300,000 3G subscribers in just three months of the mobile technology’s introduction. He reportedly expects Lebanon to have about 160,000 3G subscribers by the year end.

With the state hoping to raise the country’s current mobile penetration rate of 73% by reducing what are globally perceived as high tariffs, the introduction of 3G can also, it hopes, bring Lebanon’s internet sector up to a similar standard of that in developed nations.

“If 3G can boost internet penetration in Lebanon by 30%, then we will catch up with maturing countries in four years,” Mr Bassil is reported as saying in The Daily Star.

Both mobile providers in Lebanon are owned by the state. MTC Touch is managed by a subsidiary of Kuwait’s Zain, while Alfa is managed by Egypt’s Orascom – both on behalf of the Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications.

"The Ministry acknowledges and apologises to the community for the delay in bringing high speed 3G internet services to the country, however this delay may have a positive side as we are now able to jump on the bandwagon of today’s modern technology and implement it when it is in an advanced stage,” Dr Charbel Nahas, Lebanon’s Telecommunications Minister, said in May.

"With the impending launch of such technology, Lebanon will be ahead or on par with other countries in the region and this will stimulate economic activity and attract investment into the country," he added.

Rebecca Hawkes | 29-06-2011