Network companies around the globe have been reporting delays and difficulties in data transmission, due to the exponential growth of number of smartphone users. Lebanon is no stranger to the trend, in a country where outdated telecom networks have become a cause célèbre and BlackBerry users, trendsetters.
Last December, British mobile phone operator O2 apologized for service trouble as some customers were periodically unable to make and receive calls or transmit data because of pressure on the network from smartphones.
In Lebanon Ayoub Merhi, manager of the BlackBerry store in downtown Beirut, acknowledged that when BlackBerry was introduced in 2009, users had initially faced similar network problems. These problems could be partially blamed on increased use of applications by customers with smartphones, which repeatedly pull data off the Internet at short intervals.
“Network services have certainly improved since last year, as mobile phone [companies] beefed up the network by adding additional stations around Lebanon,” he said.
“MTC currently provides about 10,000 lines to BlackBerry users,” he added. “Alfa joined the market at a later stage — it had to first update its network grid to obtain the right to service BlackBerry users which, today for Alfa, amount to about 3,000 clients,” said Merhi.
However, some 2,000 to 3,000 users with prepaid cards do not have access to online applications or email services.
Imad Tarabay, chief executive officer of Mobile Broadband Wireless Internet (MOBI), said Lebanese mobile operators’ service problems were mostly the result of a deficient international network route, which has yet to be updated to accommodate the growing number of BlackBerry and other smartphone users.
“Another problem worth mentioning resides in the fact that many of the hundreds of applications available on the BlackBerry website are blocked from Lebanon for unknown reasons,” he added.
With some 30,000 Blackberry users expected in Lebanon by the end of next year (according to the BlackBerry store), telecom companies should try to learn more about smartphone applications and what their increasing popularity might entail in the long run, to try to alleviate pressure from phone networks.