Libya’s LPTIC heads for full NGN implementation with pilot local access projects

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Libya’s national incumbent LPTIC has embarked upon what is probably the most ambitious overhaul of a telephone network in the whole of Africa. It plans to put in place a fibre Next Generation Backbone Network (NGBN) and has pilot projects to extend IP delivery at a local level. The impact of new fibre network will also improve both its connections to its neighbours and internationally. Russell Southwood looks at what’s happening.

Libyan Post Telecommunications and Information Technology Company (LPTIC) is the national operator that provides fixed, mobile and internet related services throughout Libya. Its implementation of the NGBN is split into two phases and between the eastern and western part of the countries at a total cost of 160 million euros (US$237 million). The first phase of the project is to roll-out 8,000 kms of fibre to link all of the cities of Libya. Most of the cable has to be laid across rocky ground. Italy’s SIRTI was awarded the contract for the west and Alcatel-Lucent for the east. 30% of the project work has been completed.

Phase 2 involves putting in the transmission equipment and the East and West contractors for this work will shortly be selected. This work will happen at two levels: the first level is putting in the transmission equipment for the backbone infrastructure and the second level is creating routers to link the small and medium-sized towns. The majority of Libya’s population is found along its Mediterranean coast and in the two big cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. The whole NGN implementation will involve 30 vendors, of which 20 so far have been selected.

The coastal part of the fibre backbone network is already live. It is a WDM festoon and it is already providing Lamdas worth of connectivity. It stretches from beyond Ras Jedir in the west to beyond Berdi in the east and will connect Libya to Tunisia and Egypt, making 15 drops along the coastline. And although it would be challenging, the southernmost cable has the potential to connect into neighbouring Niger where Libya has invested in Sonitel. The cable will land in Tripoli giving access to both Marseilles and the UK, again giving capacity measured in Lamdas.

In addition, LPTIC has agreed to put in place a bilateral cable from Tripoli to Madzara in Sicily which via Italy connects it into Europe. On top of this, it is also an investment consortium signatory for the European India Gateway project into which it is putting US$60 million.

The local access network element of the NGN implementation has started with a pilot project in the capital called the Tripoli Business Network, which will deliver IP calling all the way to the customer’s phone. The roll-out for this local level access will again be carried out in phases, focusing on Tripoli and Benghazi in 2010.

Sources in the company say that price for provisioning both switching and fibre is considerably cheaper than its non-IP equivalent but prices for local access provision are more expensive. The current level of voice traffic carried in IP form is comparatively small but it is expected to increase substantially over the next three years.

Like many incumbent carriers, LPTIC has rolled a CDMA 2000 product with a capacity for 800,000 connections. Currently it has around 400,000 fixed lines but has found offering the CDMA 2000 product much quicker than installing copper. Undoubtedly it will soon have a significant number of CDMA voice and data subscribers.

Although there has been no liberalisation in the Libyan telecoms market, SIRTI formed a joint venture company with LPTIC which was announced in December last year. It will not only build projects but also subsequently manage them. The agreement was signed by Mohammad Muammar Gaddafi, the son of the Colonel and chairman of the Libyan telecom, and by Sirti chairman Gianni Maria Chiarva. SIRTI owns 55% of the joint venture company.

According to the business plan envisaged by the agreement, initially 120 Italian engineers and technicians will be employed, along with 170 Libyan professionals. The targeted revenue in the first three years is 140 million euro (US$207 million).