Lebanese 3G pilots take off

26 Sep 2011

Lebanese mobile network operator Alfa, managed by Orascom Telecom, has announced the launch of its pilot 3G mobile service for 2,000 users, while the country’s other state-owned cellco, MTC Touch, managed by Zain Group, is also reported to have begun a similar scheme, taking the number of pilot users to 4,000. The month-long pilot of W-CDMA/HSPA+ is scheduled to last until 20 October 2011, ahead of commercial launches hoped for by the end of that month. In Alfa’s case, selected pilot network users have been issued with SIM cards for use with smartphones or laptop modems to access services including high speed mobile internet – up to a theoretical 21Mbps with actual speeds of 2Mbps reported by early pilot users – video calls and international voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls. Alfa has put 250 3G base stations into service so far, covering an area extending from Beirut and Mount Lebanon up to the coast of Amchit. The operator conducted its first tests of 3.5G technology in April this year, including demos of video calling and high speed mobile web browsing. In May, rival MTC Touch held a live HSPA+ demo at a press conference in Beirut; at the time MTC Touch’s chief technical officer, Mrs Rola Abu Daher Al Rabih, claimed that its commercial 3G network would span 850 base station sites nationwide, with plans to have 50 sites compliant with 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology; she also indicated peak 3.5G speeds could reach 42Mbps, indicating that a dual carrier (DC) HSPA implementation was planned.

Telecoms Minister Nicholas Sehnaoui marked Lebanon’s 3G debut last week at a ceremony to select 50 university students for the pilot. In June 2011 CommsUpdate reported that a government legal authority, the Shura Council, suspended the powers of the Lebanese Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), making the Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT) the sole body authorised to set new rules and guidelines for the sector. The MoT implied that the decision would prevent interference in the ministry’s plans to ensure the launch of 3G mobile services.

Lebanon, Alfa (MIC 1), Touch Lebanon (MIC 2)