3 Dec 2008

Lebanese mobile market shake-ups: DT to withdraw?

A helpful colleague here at Informa Telecoms & Media recently forwarded me a story which reports changes on the Lebanese mobile market.
While preparing for our imminent GSM>3G Middle East conference in Dubai, I was surprised to receive news of a speaker cancellation. We had long planned to welcome the Chief Commercial Officer of Lebanese cello Alfa, one of the very first presenters to have confirmed his interest in sharing insights at the event. We have since replaced the planned presentation with one from Saudi Arabia's Mobily, but it's always disappointing to have to cancel a presentation which we have advertised for some time.

I cannot be sure, but we may have to assume that the Alfa cancellation is related to recent news that Lebanon's national unity government is forcing the company to abandon its contract to manage one of the country's two state-owned mobile phone networks, having criticsed its services. Alfa, a joint venture of Deutsche Telekom and Saudi Arabia's Fal Holdings, had to hand over control of the MIC1 network to the Telecommunications Ministry on 1 December, thereby ending its four-year management contract.

"With MIC1, we were not happy with the quality [of service] that we ended up with,"" says Gilbert Najjar, the head of the ministry's advisory board on the two networks.

The Kuwaiti operator Zain, which manages the country's second MIC2 network under its MTC-Touch brand, will also have to hand over its contract, but not until the end of January. Najjar has declined to criticise Zain's management of MIC2, and the Kuwaiti firm is therefore expected to rebid for its contract. Lebanon's telecoms regulator has indicated that Zain needs to reapply because the Council of Ministers (cabinet) is certain to change the terms of the contract.

"This is a legal and administrative issue. They are changing the terms of the contract so they cannot just renew the management contracts,"" says Lelia el-Khazen, a senior market analyst at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.