High speed internet services, including IPTV and 3G mobile networks, are in touching distance for Lebanon after the country finally became connected to an international submarine cable this week.

Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnawi has confirmed that people could expect “important developments” in the internet sector which “coincide with the liberalisation of the international capacities known as IMEWE [India-Middle East-Western Europe] and Cadmos” on 4 July.

Mr Sehnawi added he will present a draft bill to the Cabinet during the next three weeks which would result in a drop in prices for internet services in Lebanon.

The 13,000km IMEWE cable which links India and France - with landing points in multiple countries in between -has a potential capacity of 3.84 terabits per second.

Lebanon’s previous Telecommunications Minister, Charbel Nahhas who brokered the deal, indicated some of this capacity will be tapped by the state-owned mobile companies Alfa and MTC Touch in order to power their forthcoming 3G networks and the mobile broadband services they will offer.

MTC Touch 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 IPTV video streaming and mobile TV, as well as experience higher call quality.

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

With the new submarine cable connection, Lebanon’s private internet service providers (ISPs) will also now be able to offer faster internet connection speeds to consumers, and are welcoming the government’s move to reduce pricing.

Imad Tarabay, chief executive officer of ISP Cedarcom said the current rate the government charges of around US$3,000 a line is prohibitive to ISPs who are trying to provide users with a high speed service, according to Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star.

“At the moment it’s as if they were inviting you to buy property in Downtown [Beirut],” Mr Tarabay is quoted as saying. “There’s a lot of land, but nobody can afford it.”

Rebecca Hawkes | 07-07-2011