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Lebanon set for major internet improvements in 2019: Itani

Dec 26

Lebanon set for major internet improvements in 2019: Itani

BEIRUT: Lebanon can expect to see a big improvement in internet speeds once the installation of fiber optics is completed in 2019, according to Hisham Itani, chairman and CEO of Resource Solutions. Itani, whose company is involved in the installation of fiber optics and other major projects in the country, says speeds and connectivity are set to pick up.

“Fiber optics is a project that will take some time to be completed - we’re talking about a national network. But by the end of 2019, the country will witness some major advancement. Major,” Itani said in an interview with The Daily Star.

Resource Group operates across the sectors of digital security, cybersecurity and telecoms infrastructure, in addition to other sectors.

SERTA, a subsidiary of Resource Solutions, was one of three companies awarded the $283 million fiber-optic project by state-owned internet company Ogero in February 2018.

Itani’s own “contributions to the country’s economic growth” earned him a spot on Forbes Middle East’s first “Forbes Lebanon 100” list.

The rankings recognize 100 Lebanese business leaders, entrepreneurs and prominent individuals and their contribution to the country’s economy.

Itani’s award, in the business leader category, was the only one dedicated to technology.

He said that came as a shock.

“Only one [had a focus on] technology! How come? A society where 80 percent of everyday business and actions depend on technology, only one company is recognized?” he said.

He offered a possible explanation for this, making reference to underlying structures that urgently need to be addressed if Lebanon wants to stop lagging behind in the knowledge economy.

Itani said that despite the Lebanese sector already having crucial tools firmly in place, the government has a significant role to play in subsidizing and helping the industry to grow.

“In 10-15 years, we will see about 100-200 tech companies, very well-rooted in tech, exporting 90 percent of their products abroad,” he claimed. “But to get there, we need the government to fundamentally improve the infrastructure - specifically accessibility, e-government and updated commercial laws.”

Itani underlined the need for the introduction of new laws to regulate the country’s telecoms and information technology sectors.

“We need a totally new commercial law. The current one cripples the ability of companies to get funding, to get [loans], to issue bonds, to work with e-signatures, to have recognized digital transactions,” Itani said.

He expressed belief that once Lebanese tech companies are developed, they should export their know-how. “What we know the best is how to develop, fine-tune and ultimately resell our technological [expertise]. This is what we do - we started a platform to export our knowledge and expertise to Africa and to the Middle East, where we are exporting our developments, our source codes and implementation know-how,” Itani said.

He added that over half of the 2,100 people his company employs are Lebanese, whether they are based in Lebanon or abroad.

Itani says he hires international employees to transfer their skills and know-how onto “our people,” but maintains this is ultimately an investment in national wealth.

“That learning curve stays in our companies. Unlike in places like Dubai, most of my employees in Lebanon are Lebanese. They [stay] here and grow with the company.

“Even if they move to another Lebanese company, the expertise stays in Lebanon. This is our real strength,” he said. “It’s a major advantage that we have. I’m not saying we have all the expertise here, but what we lack, we import, and it’s easily transfered.”

He added that changes in the tech sector in Lebanon will open up new possibilities, but emphasized the importance of having an up-to-date national registry of individuals and businesses in place.

“It is the cornerstone of e-government. You can’t have a transaction without identification and authentication. How can we do that without a proper national registry? The one we have dates back to the Ottoman occupation!” he claimed.

“The unique citizen identification number law was passed a long time ago in Parliament, but without the backbone of a thoroughly updated national registry, we can’t have a proper e-government, which not only will make citizen’s lives better, it will make investing in Lebanon easier, it will combat corruption.”

Asked about the bold claim he made in Forbes Middle East magazine about how his company is changing people lives, Itani said: “We change lives by connecting lives. Having a faster infrastructure and enhancing and securing personal identification is a game changer.”

“One of the most common crimes everywhere is identity theft. Our biggest endeavor today is in the cybersecurity space - this is where we are transforming ... to becoming a cybersecurity expert. In the next 10 years, more than 50-60 percent of the crimes will be cybercrimes.”