State-backed cellco Touch Lebanon has signed agreements with China’s Huawei and Finland’s Nokia for the upgrade and expansion of its 4G LTE services nationwide this year, referred to as a ‘4.5G’ network rollout. The announcement closely followed Lebanon’s other government-owned cellco Alfa inking contracts with Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson for a similar national ‘4.5G’ rollout. All 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).
Touch Lebanon – managed by Kuwait’s Zain Group – emphasises that its newly upgraded ‘4.5G’ LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) carrier aggregation services will be available ‘all across Lebanon’ by September this year (in line with the MoT’s previously announced plans). Touch’s LTE coverage currently remains limited to Greater Beirut and Faqra, according to its website coverage map, whilst rival Alfa claims a wider LTE footprint at present. Touch says that it is installing 1,415 sites to cover 99.8% of the country, whilst besides the ‘standard’ LTE-A dual carrier speed of 300Mbps nationwide, it will enable tri-carrier aggregation and 4×4 MIMO antenna technology in dense urban areas to deliver speed capacity of between 450Mbps and 600Mbps. The deployment process will be fast tracked, focusing primarily on coverage and capacity, ‘ensuring that even the most remote villages in the country can enjoy LTE.’ The latest 4G offers from Touch includes a package featuring the new Samsung Galaxy S7 handset with two months ‘free’ 4G data access plus a ‘free’ Gear VR virtual reality device, priced at USD59 per month on a twelve-month contract.
At the signing ceremony, Minister Harb added an apparent note of warning, stating: ‘I would also like to emphasise, in the presence of Nokia and Huawei, that the work must be completed by September. I call for Touch to accelerate its efforts because there are several tenders that must be completed in parallel to this project.’
Touch’s CEO Peter Kaliaropoulos added: ‘By the end of 2015, Touch internet traffic generated from 1.6 million data customers tripled from 15TB a day to 45TB over the previous year. Mobile internet has become the primary source of connectivity, desktop internet taking the back seat. Mobile data communications is at the core of our lives today and shaping a new world.’ With the launch of the ‘4.5G’ (multi-carrier LTE-A) technology, Touch anticipates daily volumes of over 350TB before the end of 2020.
The CEO also announced that technology cooperation agreements have been secured with both Nokia and Huawei to ensure the Touch network is 5G enabled and able to handle commercial 5G traffic when global standards are finalised ‘most likely by end of 2018’.
Ahmad Othman of Nokia stated: ‘Increasing usage of smart devices to access voice, video and other data-intensive applications on the go by customers of Touch in Lebanon demands a superior network with high speeds and optimal coverage. Due to Nokia’s long-term partnership with Touch, we understand our customer’s exact requirements and will build an ultra-fast LTE-A network with our Single RAN Advanced radio platform, carrier aggregation technology, network management system and professional services.’