Alfa, one of Lebanon’s two state-owned mobile network operators, has signed contracts with Ericsson and Nokia to jointly upgrade and expand its existing 4G LTE services nationwide this year, whilst also signing memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the same two vendors on the development of 5G technology platforms on its network in the next few years. The signings were carried out under the patronage of Lebanon’s telecoms minister Boutros Harb as part of the country’s ‘2020 Telecom Vision’ development programme launched by the Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT).
Alfa, which is managed by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding (OTMT), said in a press release on its website that the latest contracts with the Nordic vendors will achieve comprehensive coverage of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) services with mobile data speeds of up to 300Mbps in phases across the country. Although Alfa refers to the rollout as ‘4.5G’, the 300Mbps carrier aggregation (CA) evolution it describes is more commonly labelled by operators as LTE-A or ‘4G+’. The press release adds that the commencement of rollout contracts with Ericsson and Nokia represent the first step in the USD600 million mobile broadband and fibre project announced by the MoT in July 2015, and reiterates a goal to see LTE-A networks deployed and ready-for-service nationwide by the end of September 2016 (compared to the ‘16% of territory’ LTE coverage quoted by the ministry last July). At the signing ceremony Alf and the MoT asserted that the project will ‘not exclude any village’ and will extend LTE to ‘99.7% of the Lebanese territory.’ Alfa previously tested LTE-A CA technology in August 2015, and disclosed that it will be using 2×35MHz in the 1800MHz and 800MHz bands to achieve its 300Mbps (theoretical) top LTE-A speeds.
Regarding the ‘4.5G to 5G’ MoUs signed with Nokia and Ericsson, Alfa announced that it will work with the two technology giants on the exchange of information and expertise to ensure the readiness of its network to begin incorporating 5G technology ‘by mid-2018’. ‘The network will be ready in mid-2018 to receive the first 5G [base] station in Lebanon,’ the press release claimed.
With the upgrades to LTE-A and beyond, Alfa said it expected data consumption to rise by between five-and-six times, whilst all users would be able to access advanced applications including HD video streaming and HD voice. New areas of focus made possible by 4.5G/5G were identified as including the m-health/education sectors and the expanding Internet of Things (IoT) field.