The CEO of Lebanese state-owned mobile operator Touch, managed by Kuwait’s Zain Group, has made a statement on its ongoing efforts to address a deterioration in services caused by a surge in new subscribers and the introduction of 3G data services. As reported by Zawya.com, Claude Bassil told journalists that Touch and fellow government-owned cellco Alfa will need another year to optimise the reliability of their 3G networks which were launched in November 2011. Bassil said that during the initial upgrade phase, users’ connections often suffered disruption as a result of being transferred between 2G and 3G reception, while he also blamed some poor performance on illegally imported handsets. Touch and Alfa (part of the Orascom/Vimpelcom group) had their contracts extended in February and were commissioned to build 400 new broadcast stations and install 1,200 antennas across the country, necessary to optimise the 3G network, Bassil said, adding that 50 new stations are essential to eliminate coverage gaps.
Addressing other service issues, the Touch CEO said that introducing per-second call billing rather than the current per-minute system was ‘unlikely’ due to the resultant impact on revenues – relied on by the state, which has repeatedly blocked proposals to privatise the mobile sector. He also flagged up inefficiencies in Lebanese mobile operations stemming from government ownership of the sector, including the fact that over half of employees are engaged in ‘support functions including maintenance, refueling generators, and so on’, rather than outsourcing these functions to concentrate on services. Finally, when asked about prospects for 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) services, Bassil said that a 4G network would take ‘at least two years’ to be rolled out and launched in Lebanon.