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Let the countdown begin-NOW Lebanon

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Internet in Lebanon should be 8 folds faster and 80% cheaper by the end of September.

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Let the countdown begin-NOW Lebanon

  1. 1. Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -Let the countdown begin http://nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=304356 AGENDA Let the countdown begin Matt Nash, August 23, 2011 share NOW Google Advanced An advertisement displayed at a recent IT fair in Germany shows an Internet cable mimicking a heart monitor. Lebanon’s IT sector is set for resuscitation when the country taps an undersea Internet cable. (AFP Photo/Johannes Eisele) Internet in Lebanon should be faster and cheaper by the end of September. Cabinet on Tuesday approved a new price list that will be implemented one month from August 29, when the decree is published in the Official Gazette. The news had the country’s Twitterati and Facebook denizens abuzz with excitement. Indeed, it has been a long time coming. The decree was not officially made public, but a leak over the weekend in al-Mustaqbal newspaper, which two sources told NOW Lebanon is accurate, laid out new speeds and prices. The good news for consumers: Today a 1 Mbps connection, the second-fastest available, costs 115,000 LL ($76.67) per month. Under the new regime, 1 Mbps will be the slowest connection sold by Ogero, the state-run telecom company, and will cost 24,000 LL ($16) per month. (Both price figures exclude the 10% value added tax.) Packages will range from 1 Mbps with a 4 GB download and upload cap (it’s not split; you get 4GB for each) to around 8 Mpbs with a 30 GB cap. Imad Tarabay, CEO of the Internet provider Cedarcom, told NOW Lebanon that as soon as the new packages are implemented, customers with packages below 1 Mbps now will automatically receive the lowest-level new package from their providers (assuming Ogero releases bandwidth to the private sector). Customers can then decide if they want to switch packages or not.1 of 3 8/27/11 5:43 PM
  2. 2. Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -Let the countdown begin http://nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=304356 Telecom Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui announced on Friday that he sent a new price list, which has long been reported as the “silver bullet” needed before prices can fall and speeds can rise, to cabinet for approval during its Tuesday session. (He also said 3G mobile phone networks will test launch in mid-September for 4,000 users, becoming more widely available by year’s end.) On Sunday, al-Mustaqbal published what it said was the draft decree for Internet pricing. Over the weekend, users on Facebook groups and a forum concerned with faster Internet in Lebanon debated the meaning and accuracy of the al-Mustaqbal leak at length. Khaldoun Farhat, CEO of the ISP Terranet, told NOW Lebanon the al-Mustaqbal list is highly reliable. Tarabay told NOW Lebanon that he did not see the newspaper’s leak but had received a copy of the actual decree. During a telephone interview on Tuesday morning, Tarabay read prices and packages as listed in the decree to NOW Lebanon. The prices and packages he listed mirrored those published in al-Mustaqbal exactly. The decree was necessary for two reasons. First, state-owned Ogero sells and distributes actual access to the Internet to the numerous private companies that then sell it to consumers (although Ogero itself also sells to consumers directly). For years now, Ogero has sold bandwidth to the private sector at an extremely high cost ($2,700 per E1, or around 2 Mbps), which is set by cabinet. Private companies, therefore, only offered what are today laughably slow speeds. The decree lowered the price of an E1 to $420, Tarabay said. The second reason the decree was necessary is because the cabinet also sets the prices at which Ogero sells packages to individual customers (in the al-Mustaqbal decree, this is shown in “Chart number 3”). By law, Ogero must follow this pricing structure. While the decree also lays out suggestions for the private sector to follow in terms of packages and pricing, by law they are free to set those things themselves. “The way it happened previously, and the way that is logical,” Farhat said, “is that most private sector companies went below [Ogero’s prices] to compete.” Faster Internet in Lebanon is possible, in a large part, because of the country’s link to the IMEWE cable, a fiber-optic cable that connects nine telecommunications companies between India and Western Europe. It has been operational since2 of 3 8/27/11 5:43 PM
  3. 3. Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -Let the countdown begin http://nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=304356 mid-December 2010. But a bitter fight between Ogero and the Ministry of Telecoms prevented Lebanon from using bandwidth via the IMEWE cable for over eight months, and in the past Ogero often waited weeks, if not months, to fill orders for more bandwidth placed by private sector providers, thus delaying delivery to individual customers. The cable’s design capacity is 3.48 Terabits, and Lebanon’s share will be nearly 1 Terabit, Farhat said. An advisor to the Minister of Telecoms refused an interview request, as the minister will hold a press conference on this topic later in the week. While a fiber cable is rising from the sea, fiber is not yet the standard on land in Lebanon. The country’s current Internet infrastructure is almost entirely composed of copper wires. Farhat said that the two companies of which he is a part, Cable-1 and Terranet, have tested their cables, which they buy from Ogero, and found that 66 to 70 percent are capable of carrying speeds up to 8 Mbps. Fiber optic cables would increase that capacity, and Sehnaoui has said that a project to completely wire Lebanon in fiber should be completed early next year. So, users with fixed-line connections at their homes can possibly benefit from the fastest of the new speeds on offer. Tarabay said that the ministry has also committed to upgrading the infrastructure the private sector uses, key to ensuring companies can provide fixed-line customers faster speeds. Users with wireless devices (Mobi, Wigo, WISE), however, could be in for some disappointment. Both Farhat and Tarabay said that technologically speaking, a fixed line is always faster than a wireless connection because wireless signals are sent via microwave and are subject to interference. Further, Mobi’s second-most-recent USB modems have a hardware design that only allows them to reach a maximum download speed of 1 Mbps (full technical specifics for the newest modem was not available on the company’s website). It is unclear if providers of wireless modems with similar hardware restrictions will bring in newer devices for customers. Tarabay, whose company sells the Mobi, said Cedarcom has plans for the future but refused to disclose more details yet. Both Farhat and Tarabay welcomed the new price list and said they are pleased action is finally being taken to bring Lebanon’s telecom sector into the 21st century. However, they cautioned against counting chickens before they’re hatched, though both were hopeful the sector would honestly begin a drastic turnaround. “Now, you reduced the price. If you don’t give the capacity, well, you’re in the same position,” Tarabay said, referring to the slow speeds available today. “But at least you get it at a lower price,” he quipped.3 of 3 8/27/11 5:43 PM

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