Progress ahead for Lebanon's fixed and mobile broadband markets
Lebanon's mobile infrastructure has been primarily focused on 2G and 3G networks in recent years. However this is set to change with The Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT) launching a 2020 Telecom Vision initiative in mid 2015. While only around 16% of Lebanon has 4G mobile coverage, both Touch and Alfa are planning to upgrade and expand their 4G networks during 2016. Touch has commissioned Huawei and Nokia for the work, while Alfa has also contracted Nokia along with Ericsson.
Improvements in mobile infrastructure will hopefully overshadow stalled development of the tendering of Lebanon's mobile network management contracts. The government announced in mid 2015 that a tender process would be held for obtaining the contracts and a final decision would be announced in the following September. However various delays and issues regarding tender applications means that in 2016 decisions regarding the ongoing management of the mobile networks has not been made. In the interim, Kuwait's Zain Group continues to manage Touch Lebanon and Egypt's Orascom continues to mange Alfa.
The 2020 Telecom Vision project by the MoT will also see improvements in fibre-optic infrastructure with plans for the entire country to be covered by 2020. Lebanon's subscriber base for fixed broadband services is growing and in 2016 there are well over half a million subscribers to both DSL and, more recently, Fibre-to-the-Curb (FttC) networks.
Improvements to broadband infrastructure will also boost the already flourishing digital economy in Lebanon. Lebanon has a well developed start-up culture that has attracted international interest and recognition. The digital media sector in Lebanon is also growing strongly, with Lebanon citizens large users of Facebook. However there is some evidence that social media users in Lebanon, as well as the Middle East, are beginning to turn away from services like Facebook and Twitter and transition to mobile messaging applications Whatsapp and Snapchat instead. This is largely due to citizens concerns regarding security and privacy and a general feeling that their online use is being monitored by companies and government alike.
Overall, the ICT sector has grown significantly in Lebanon. With the government supporting and financing the 2020 Telecom Vision project we should see some great progress over the next few years. Infrastructure improvements will not only assist Lebanon in terms of communication delivery, but also grow its mobile data usage, along with its promising start-up culture. The pressure placed upon Lebanon by the influx of refugees may also be assisted by ICT improvements and digital technologies.
Key telecom parameters 2013; 2016 Sector | 2013 | 2016 Subscribers to telecoms services (million): (e) Fixed Broadband users | 0.48 | 0.58 Fixed-line telephony | 0.86 | 0.99 Mobile phone | 3.88 | 4.59 (Source: BuddeComm based on industry data)
Lebanon's telecoms market holds a unique position in the Middle East given the level of government involvement. While most incumbents in the region are government owned, within Lebanon, government ownership also extends to the country's two mobile operators. The mobile operators in Lebanon, Touch and Alfa hold a 54% market share and 46% market share respectively at the end of 2015. The majority of Touch's mobile subscribers in Lebanon are on pre-paid plans. Mobile payments solutions are beginning to emerge in Lebanon and are being offered by banks and mobile operators alike. The renewed focus on building fibre networks as part of Telecom Vision 2020 should see Lebanon's broadband sector improve significantly in the next few years. Mobile broadband has reached over 60% penetration in Lebanon where the majority of citizens own mobile phones. Marketing companies are slowly beginning to see the benefits of digital advertising in Lebanon with just over 5% of advertising spending directed towards this medium in 2015 a rise from around 3.5% a year earlier.