Late last year I noticed a couple of technicians from Ogero– the state agency that runs the country’s telecom network– surveying a street in Ras Beirut. My heart almost skipped a beat. Are we finally getting high speed internet, I thought. Are they finally laying the fiber optic network that we have been promised for at least six years now, since then telecom minister’ Gebran Bassil’s 2009 announcement?
In fact, I wrote an in-depth piece two years ago about the number of false promises we’ve received since then, with each of the last four telecom ministers confidently announcing at one point or another that the fiber optic project will be ready in the “coming months” or “by the end of the year.” Yet little has changed and Lebanon’s internet is still among the world’s slowest. The last telecom ministry official I had interviewed promised the project would be online by mid 2014.
It wasn’t until December 2014 that I saw these two Ogero guys. When will it be ready, I asked them: “6 months inshallah,” they said. Around that time I randomly met a new telecom advisor from the current administration at an event. He said it would take 6 months to have the tender ready and another 6 months to connect the fiber to home. This was December 2014.
Recently I noticed some interesting activity in the Hamra area. Here they are tearing up Makdissi street yesterday:
This work has been going on for about a month in different parts of Hamra. When I first noticed it, I asked the workers and one said they were laying electricity. The other said, “no you fool, this is water, can’t you see the pipes are blue!”
Yesterday, I asked the same question and the workers said: “We are laying pipes, but we have no idea what they will put in them.”
Meanwhile, there is another interesting development. In addition to streets, sidewalks have also been ripped up in Hamra for the last few weeks now:
Then about two weeks ago these holes were replaced with big cabinets:
These mystery boxes have suddenly appeared throughout the neighborhood over the last couple of weeks. Here is one on Bliss next to AUB:
Upon closer inspection these boxes have fans on the back. Does that mean there are hard drives in there and thus… internet??
A cab driver recently remarked about them. He said a telecom employee told them they are worth $25,000 each. True? God knows.
Last week, I was invited to a telecom ministry event and I was hoping I could finally get some answers. But this event turned out to be about “supporting entrepreneurs” — not the infrastructure they need to become competitive. Once again, I found a ministry advisor. He actually told me the fiber project was behind schedule because a lot of the work done by the contractor under the last administration was problematic and they actually had to “re-do” a lot of the digging or connecting.
I should clarify here that there are two fiber projects going on. One is a “fiber backbone” that will connect the country’s 300 odd Central Offices — what we colloquially call Centrales.
Then there is the plan to bring that fiber from central office to the home. The plan to finish the backbone was supposed to be completed (by account of the last promise) by mid 2014. At the time, the ministry advisor had said nearly all 300 were connected to the new backbone, a figure that was disputed by Ericsson who put the number closer to 60. But now with the work done shoddily, it may take an additional several months to complete the backbone. That is a nation-wide network–might we see some quicker results within Beirut?
Yet the plot thickens.
When I noticed them digging up Makdissi street last week, I had seen a sign near the workers:
I checked out Guardia Systems online and turns out they install security and surveillance systems, i.e. CCTV cameras. So maybe the blue pipes are not water, electricity or internet–maybe they are just security camera feeds?
Sure enough, close to those boxes, they have recently put up poles and a few days ago, those poles were studded with cameras:
I went on Guardia Systems website and there was a list of clients yet none of these mentioned CCTV in Ras Beirut for the government. In fact, the site was pretty vague with virtually nothing about its staff or mangers in its “about us” section.
I did a little research and turns out Guardia won a $40 million contract to install the CCTV cameras. But there were issues with the contract and the fairness of the bid and a Beirut judge ruled it was “illegally” awarded last year. I don’t even remember this coming up, let alone the ethical debates about surveilling the entire Ras Beirut population. If you have the means, you may be tempted to install your own cameras on your property. If so, you may want to check out these home security cameras reviews to help get you on the right track.
I’m not sure what happened since, but it seems Guardia’s contract is back on track.
Does this mean our internet hopes are doomed? Maybe not. A friend of mine suggested the new cameras may run on fiber and maybe the boxes are supplying it. Is there a chance that the same boxes will be used to connect homes too… at least some day?