Saudi Telecom says Lebanon ripe for investment
BEIRUT, Mar 30, 2012 (The Daily Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Lebanon's telecommunications sector is ripe for investments, the CEO of international operations at Saudi Telecom Corporation Ghassan Hasbani said Thursday.
Hasbani, who is a Lebanese national, spoke to The Daily Star on the sidelines of the ArabNet Digital Summit held this week in Beirut.
When asked whether STC would consider investing in a third mobile operating license in Lebanon, Hasbani said that his company continued to show a keen interest in the Lebanese telecoms market.
"We realize that this is a very attractive market with a great potential," he said but noted that allowing such an investment would be a policy decision by the Lebanese government.
"If the government's telecoms sector policy will allow for such an opportunity, we would very seriously consider entering the market," he added.
Hasbani said Lebanon should consider opening up its mobile telecommunications sector to foreign direct investments, as well as investments from the local private sector.
He said such investments would help bolster access to the global market and be of great value to the economy.
"The telecoms sector remains a very lucrative industry for private investments," he said, suggesting that liberalizing the sector would allow the channeling of public investments into sectors that do not receive similar attention from private investors.
Hasbani said investments would also boost the overall competitiveness of the Lebanese economy as it would allow for cheaper good quality communications and new technologies would be deployed faster.
When asked whether increasingly popular free mobile texting and Voice Over IP applications were affecting the revenues of the telecoms industry, Hasbani said there were only momentary concerns of losing traditional revenue streams.
"Instead of making money on regular voice calls, the sector has been quickly adapting and creating new revenue streams through broadband and other data services," Hasbani said, adding that digitized communications were creating new opportunities for growth.
But he said telecoms revenues in the region, despite being lower, were now following a very healthy trend.
"We might not be as extremely profitable as before. But let us not forget that the sector was full of state-controlled monopolies. Today there is more competition bringing value, better quality, and advanced services," Hasbani added.
According to the CEO of STC, the regional telecoms industry was not negatively affected by the Arab Spring revolutions across some of its key markets.
"In fact you can argue that people have communicated more during and after these revolutions," Hasbani said, but he nevertheless agreed that the security situation has affected investment opportunities.
"Some new licenses were put on hold as well as some mergers," he added.
When asked about the future of the sector in the Middle East, Hasbani said the region would continue to witness larger telecommunications companies as operators opt for mergers to cut operation costs. "We would continue to see further integration between the telecoms sector and other sectors, particularly banking and health care," he added.
During the summit, Hasbani announced a new venture capital fund that he said would channel investments into successful information and communications technology startups across the MENA region.
"Lebanon is particularly well suited to benefit from the fund as many such companies here are increasingly showing great talent and success," he said.
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