Libya steps into interconnected age
TELECOMMUNICATIONS New cellular phone network will use latest technology to provide high quality services to 75% of Libyan territory

The headquarters of the General Post and Telecommunication Company, which is responsible for both fixed-line and cellular phone networks.

For a big country like Libya, consisting mainly of uninhabited desert, with many small scattered villages, telecommunications is a key sector.

The General Post and Telecommunication Company (GPTC) has already made notable progress in extending services across the country. “The goal is not to make a profit but to provide services to all areas,” says Mohammad el-Qaddafi, GPTC’s Chairman. “Even remote villages will be included,” he adds.

The geographical conditions make a cellular system the obvious solution. Last September GPTC’s subsidiary Almadar signed a $120 million deal with Finland’s Nokia and Alcatel of France for the supply of a nationwide cellular phone network.

The network will provide wireless services to 2.5 million users throughout 75% of Libyan territory. Deployment is expected to be completed by the end of this year when it is hoped that mobile services will be available to 80% of the population—a high percentage by international standards.

First step towards full competition once local companies are well established

In addition to extending the existing GSM/EDGE infrastructure provided by Alcatel in 1996, a state-of-the-art 3G/UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) technology will be introduced. Users will be able to access a range of high-quality mobile services, including mobile video telephony and conferencing, online games, live TV over mobile, a 3G video portal, video messaging, webcam access, live sporting events, and instant messaging services.

“GPTC will pioneer the UMTS technology in Africa and position Libya as the frontrunner in the development of the continent’s telecommunication landscape,” says Mr. Qaddafi. “A widespread cellular phone service will bring undisputed benefits for our society, and we are doing our utmost to ensure the highest quality of service.”
The established state-owned cellular phone company, Almadar, now has competition from a new mobile operator, Libyana, which is also state-run.

MOHAMMAD EL-QADDAFI Chairman of the General Post and Telecommunication Company (GPTC)

Libyana launched 600,000 cellular lines last September in the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sebha, where 50% of the population live. By the end of March, it had signed up186,000 subscribers. The company has signed a $38.5 million network expansion deal with Chinese equipment maker ZTE and plans to extend its services to 45 cities across the country.

Explaining the rationale behind having two state-run mobile companies, Mr. Qaddafi says: “Both are owned by GPTC, but there is strong competition between them to be the best and it gives people the opportunity of choosing between two service providers.”

He describes the move as a first step towards privatization and full competition in the market. “We feel we should move from a monopoly to a competitive sector before we ask investors to come in,” he says.

The authorities want time to allow the local companies to develop. “Once these companies are well established, we are going to initiate the public offering of the shares to the Libyan community at the beginning and foreign investors later,” says the Chairman.

“We feel that by doing this we will create local investors that can compete with foreign investors, because if we move into privatization now we will create a foreign monopoly.”

Libya was one of the first Arab countries to have a well-established telecommunications system, but its evolution was affected by economic sanctions and it missed the opportunity to synchronize with the developments in the Western world. With sanctions now lifted, Tripoli is eager to build up the sector.

Both the fixed-line and cellular phone networks are owned by the government through GPTC, which also provides internet related services and operates the postal system.

In addition to extending the mobile network, GPTC is also developing the fixed-line system. Libya has a relatively low fixed-line penetration rate, but work to develop an additional 1.5 million fixed lines is currently under way. Meanwhile, Internet penetration is still limited but growing.

Advanced satellite technology will be brought to Libya through a long-term strategic agreement between GPTC and PolarSat, announced in March. The Canadian company will provide satellite-based communications VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technology to GPTC clients throughout Libya.

“By 2006 we aim to have reached 100% mobile phone penetration, 30% of the population covered by fixed lines and 50% or more covered by the internet network,” says Mr. Qaddafi.

Emphasis is being put on the development of human resources, with major training programs included in the contracts with Alcatel and Nokia. “We are also trying to create centers of excellence that can provide up-to-date training not only for Libya but for the whole region,” says the GPTC Chairman.

Talks are being held to enhance cooperation between Libya and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in postal, financial, and electronic services. GPTC and Emirates Post have been discussing the creation of a partnership for the development of two central hubs for exchanging goods between Asia, Africa, and Europe.

“Development of postal services is one of our priorities,” says Mr. Qaddafi. “The idea is to make the post independent of telecommunications, turning it into one or several companies. The project should be ready in two or three years.”

Exhibition will showcase sector

AN opportunity to learn about new projects and trends in Libya’s telecom and IT sectors will be provided at Taqnya 2005, an exhibition being held in Tripoli from May 29 to 31.

The exhibition, held annually, provides an opportunity for the unveiling of new projects and plans for the telecom and IT sectors in Libya, and serves as a meeting point between international companies and service providers, GPTC, and local Libyan communication and information technology companies.

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