BEIRUT, June 29, 2016– Under the auspices and in the presence of His Excellency the Minister of Telecommunications Boutros Harb, Alfa, managed by Orascom Telecom, held its annual Iftar in honor of the press and media at the Sultan Ibrahim Restaurant in downtown Beirut. It was attended by Alfa CEO and Chairman Marwan Hayek, the representative of the head of the Lebanese Press Federation Aouni al-Kaaki, the representative of the head of the Union of Journalists Elias Aoun, and several media figures, in addition to directors and advisers from the Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT), members of the Alfa board of directors, and the company’s staff.
The Iftar included a live demonstration of 4G+ LTE-A technology via the 4G+ Alfa station covering the area, which was recently put in service by the company to become one of the first 4G+ stations in Lebanon. This demo held by the engineering team at Alfa showed the high speeds this technology will offer to subscribers.
After extending his Ramadan greetings, Hayek welcomed His Excellency Minister Harb and thanked him for sponsoring his patronage and presence at this annual gathering. He also welcomed the journalists, pointing out that this gathering is an affirmation of “our appreciation for your efforts and your sacrifices, especially in light of the current situation, both economically and security-wise”, thanking the media for its support for Alfa and the telecommunications sector throughout the year. He said, “Last year we talked about the most important achievements of Alfa, managed by Orascom Telecom, over the past five years, but today we will talk about the present, which is the cornerstone and the nucleus of the future in the telecommunications sector, especially the mobile industry.”
He added, “Currently, the main project is the 4G+ LTE-Advanced project, which is part of MoT’s 2020 Digital Telecom Vision. We started working on it in February 2016 when we signed agreements with supplier companies Ericsson and Nokia then announced it officially in March 2016. At the end of May, we started equipping the stations to implement what we promised our subscribers.”
He went on, “At the Ministry of Telecommunications, and at Alfa specifically, when we announce something, we get it done quickly. The equipment reached Lebanon in less than two months, and today we have 300 4G+ stations ready for installation. We started operating 41 out of 1300 stations that will cover 99% of the Lebanese territory.” Hayek pointed out that the 4G+ LTE-A technology will allow subscribers to experience speeds ranging between 150 and 200 megabits per second, reaching speeds up to 250 megabits per second under certain conditions.” He explained, “Such a large number of stations is needed because the Internet of Things is the future, where all things are connected to the internet via the wifi or mobile phones, which requires from us to keep up with this global evolution.”
Moreover, Hayek said that the number of data subscribers around the world will rise from 15 billion subscribers currently to 28 billion subscribers in 2021, of which 16 billion will be things and equipment. He added, “When we talk about subscribers, we do not mean people only, but everything that is connected to the internet.” “This unprecedented development requires us as operators to secure internet connectivity via the 4G+ or 5G network”, pointing out that “we were the first to sign agreements in the field of 5G, committing ourselves to be ready by 2018, in terms of network and the state, to accommodate this technology as soon as it is ready worldwide. This allowed us to be the 24th state worldwide to keep pace with this technological happening.”
Hayek pointed out that data consumption on the network increases steadily, as the consumption rate per person in Lebanon and the region will increase six-fold from about 1GB per month currently, to 6GB per month over the next five years, adding that watching videos would account for 70% of this consumption, as smartphones have become a small TV screen that is connected to the internet. According to recent studies, teenagers devote three hours a day to watch YouTube videos, which shows how attached the current generation is to internet that has now become a basic need that we need to provide just like water and electricity.
Hayek said that we have all turned into reporters, or what is known as a ‘netizen journalist’, i.e. a person connected to the internet and covering the events happening around them. He also said, “Studies have shown that 40% of people believe that the reporting of corruption through social media is more influential than to security forces, which reveals the importance of modern communication means and their effect. Indeed, social media has become a platform for covering events, reporting corruption, and expressing opinion on the performance of governments, businesses, and other world developments. This approach by users requires us as companies to keep pace. Hence, at Alfa, we have adapted the means of communication to the needs of our 2 million subscribers, allowing them to communicate with company representatives 24/24 through instant chat service via the Alfa website and app, in addition to the 111 Services Center.”
He pointed out that Alfa has proved once again its technological leadership, noting that it was ranked last year 15th out of 123 global networks with which Ericsson is involved, in terms of 2G network quality. This year, according to the latest report released by the company two weeks ago, Alfa ranked 15th out of 101 global networks. In terms of quality of the 3G + network, Hayek noted that Alfa last year ranked 9th out of 62 operators and this year 8th out of 91 operators, which shows that the focus is on the 3G network and interest in 2G networks is in decline, especially in regard to internet and data. In terms of speed, Alfa ranked last year 14th out of 62 operators and this year 15th out of 91 operators, at an average speed rate that increased from 1.8 Mbits /sec to 2.2 Mbits /sec.
In his speech, Minister Harb said, “I wish a blessed holy month of Ramadan to all the Lebanese, and
Muslims in particular, filled with peace, love and rebuilding the state that we lack, the state which I represent here among you today.”
He added, “I would like to thank the Alfa management for its invitation tonight and wish it everlasting success. The demo presented on this occasion is the result of effort and work on the plan that I drew and announced early July of last year. In it, I declared that 4G will be spread across the entire Lebanese territory for users to enjoy.
In these difficult times in Lebanon where the state seems to be on the verge of collapse, I took up the challenge to transform the Ministry of Telecommunications from a ministry that is unable to meet needs and keep abreast of developments in the world to a ministry that takes up challenges and keeps pace with global development and innovation. The demonstration you witnessed tonight is the first example of the upcoming quality of service and speed, as 4.5G will be available to all the Lebanese across the entire Lebanese territory. Hence, Lebanon will become at the forefront of the countries of the world and not only the Arab countries in the mobile sector. This is certainly a great achievement that is part of my vision plan for Lebanon in 2020 in view of optical fiber coverage across Lebanon. However, this does not mean that we have to wait until 2020 to benefit from the service, as optical fibers have begun to be deployed, in addition to fast internet in phases, with apparent results.”
Harb also said, “We took up the challenge because of our faith in Lebanon and its future, as we cannot live without this country. We believe that anyone who tries to destroy Lebanon destroys the future of our children and our dignity, attacks our freedoms, and tries to enslave us to their needs. We refuse to become people who yield to reality without rebellion.
I also want to say on this occasion that brings us together with the fourth estate that I read an article accusing the press of having become for hire. Moreover, we saw some practices that gave the impression that the press has become a mercenary group, and this surely is not what I know about journalism in Lebanon. With us today are media figures we respect and admire, and as we celebrate tonight the birthday of our dear May Chidiac, we celebrate someone who sacrificed half her body for her freedom and that of the Lebanese people. I salute Dr. May and all the journalists who were betrayed and killed because they were fighting for freedom. The presence of Giselle (Khoury) here reminds me of Samir Kassir, Gebran Tueni, and all the great journalists who have made sacrifices for freedom. All what I hope is that we do not lose our trust in the fourth estate and that journalists remain free men and women, neither a captive of their salary nor of orders received to hide the truth. I hope that all journalists are aware that the press is a school of morality, patriotism, and culture, and the day the role of the press falls, the democratic system in Lebanon and the Lebanese state will fall as well. Therefore, I call every journalist to play their role with personal and national dignity and apply the educational and awareness role of the press in conveying the truth to people. I reject uncouth and finger-pointing media, and I get irritated when I see some TV stations in Lebanon hurling accusations and abuse at each other. I do not see the press in this role, as I believe it to be an essential part of what shapes us. I hope that this press, in whose role I believe in, stays up to the standard established by
Ghassan Tueni and Kamel Mrouwe, and remains at the level of our martyrs who have fallen so that the press can continue to express free opinion and freedom in Lebanon.
I am proud of our press, in spite of the attacks against me by some media outlets, and I hope that despite our differences we shall remain at least committed to the principles of the press. I also hope that the press that we are honoring tonight will maintain its role and standard because we cannot live without it, but we want to live with it in different conditions. Some politicians are destroying Lebanon for interests of which I’m not aware, and we consider that the press monitors both our errors and our successes, and it should prevent politicians from slipping and committing a crime against the nation. My appeal tonight stems from my conscience in the hope that it is heard by the journalists whom I appreciate and admire, and whom I consider to be the companions of our national struggle. No one can build Lebanon alone and no one is greater than Lebanon. Together we build Lebanon: the ministers, the people, the media, and the judiciary, and if one of those pillars falls, the whole structure crumbles and then regret would be of no use. Let us join hands to defend Lebanon, because it is all that we have, and if we do not know the value of a homeland, let us look at what happened to the people who lost their country and their land.”
Harb concluded by wishing Alfa all the success, promising to celebrate soon the launch of the first cell transmission towers that will provide 4.5G service for users, adding that the Ministry of Telecommunications promises and delivers.