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The empowerment of people through data democratization and the proliferation of our primitive understanding of sharing have made telecommunication providers' roles more challenging. People have more control over their lives than any other time in the past, and their demand for not only connectivity, but rich content and experiences, is increasing by the minute.

Touch, the leading mobile telecommunications' innovator in the country, is progressively changing the telecommunications' landscape in Lebanon, bringing in the world's most advanced ICT solutions to its customers. Touch has been operating with a mission to digitize and enhance everyday life, bringing value to even the most basic aspect of our human experience. The company is not only meeting market demands, but also elevating Lebanon as a regional innovator, taking the country to the forefront of telecommunications' technology.

With a market share of approximately 54%, touch has lived up to its promise of bringing the latest in the world of ICT to the Lebanese consumer. Touch formed many fundamental partnerships with the most relevant players in the digital ecosystem in order to emphasize its role as a digital service provider. An exciting and recent example of these collaborations is with VINLI, a connected car solution that offers WiFi hotspots, car diagnostics, vehicle tracking, geo-fencing monitoring, maintenance reminders, road side assistance and other perks. Touch ultimately became the first to introduce such a connected car technology in the country.

Touch also has a strong regional backbone as it is managed by Zain Group, a pioneer in region's telecommunications industry with a commercial footprint today in eight Middle Eastern and African countries. Zain Group is a leader in ICT innovation, with international expertise and local know-how across the countries in which it operates.

Zooming into the Lebanese market and culture, the Lebanese are known to be tech-hungry, always ready to embrace innovations and technological advancements. They also have a desire to stay continually connected and up to date. Proof of this reality is demonstrated in day to day experiences, as well as in the numbers. There is a total of 90% of smartphone penetration among touch's total customer base of around 2.3 million, out of which 1.64 million are unique data customers.

With a profound understanding of this reality, touch, hand in hand with Zain Group, have been bringing in the latest technologies to Lebanon for many years. Long-term evolution (LTE), also known as 4G, is one of those game changing technologies that is still rapidly growing and evolving to offer mobile broadband services with unprecedented speed, higher capacity and exceptional user experiences. When LTE was first introduced in Lebanon in 2013, it changed the way we understood connectivity, as it brought people closer together and made every other person out there a content developer and story teller in his/her own right.

LTE-Advanced was then the first step, and a very important one, in the development of LTE networks, which increased the data throughput to the range of 300 Mbps. Then it was evolved into 4.5G, the latest and most important breakthrough technology, with new advanced techniques such as massive MIMO, higher order modulation and many others which allowed for the absorption of the massive increases in mobile data demand and the delivery of higher data speeds.

4.5G: Bringing value to Lebanese society
Touch is currently implementing 4.5G technology nationwide through a partnership with the global telecom pioneers, Huawei and Nokia. This will gradually elevate the peak data rate to exceed 1Gbps, improve coverage everywhere and provide greater stability for mobile connectivity.

Upon the full implementation of the 4.5G, touch is determined to deliver compelling data services by building an optimized end-to-end network nationwide. Moreover, the company is putting together various programs and events to drive data education and create awareness of the inherent benefits of 4.5G services to individuals and businesses. These will be followed by demonstrations and workshops at universities and as well as educational media content.

After all, 4.5G has many important benefits for the Lebanese as consumers. It offers them concrete enhancements to speed and connection reliability which acts as an important support factor for the deployment of new ideas and services. SMEs, on the other hand, will worry less about costly IT solutions (emails, connectivity, storage capabilities, policies, etc.) and focus more on core business issues. So far, the vast majority of the Lebanese cities, which constitute 95% of Lebanese territory, are covered by the 4.5G network. This technology will be accessible to all the Lebanese, even in the remotest of areas, by the end of March 2017.

Undeniably, 4.5G is one of the most exciting developments happening in Lebanon today. It is not only anticipated to enhance general connectivity, it is also guaranteed to better and enrich life as we understand it. 4.5G allows for faster deployment of IoT applications that in turn provide considerable value to the economy by offering innovative solutions to various sectors including education, health, agriculture, media and others.

For instance, teaching becomes easier, faster and smarter as teachers and students alike utilize more connected/automated systems and tablets. The same applies to the health sector; doctors will enjoy the ability to instantly follow up and be notified on their patients' health at all times without physical presence. Even agriculture can be digitized by deploying IoT-based solutions to support farmers in daily tasks: smart watering solutions for better soil exploitation and water savings and temperature management for optimized crop-growing cycles are only some examples.

Similar transformations will happen on a more social and personal level. 4.5G technology will further dictate our expressions, relationships, behaviors and even our most basic decisions. Daily data traffic is already skyrocketing with average daily consumption (for January and February 2017) of 65TB. 4.5G technology promises to meet these increasing demands and offer a brand new lifestyle, one that will pave the way for a more digitized way of life.

5G just over the horizon
Backtracking a little, when 4G was initially designed, it was for the purpose of connecting people. Later, it was evolved into 4.5G to help connect people and devices (IoT). By increasing its capacity, 4.5G was designed to pave the way for the embodiment of a smarter networked society which connects not only people, but places and things.

Today, there are around 7 billion mobile connections around the world and that already massive number is expected to reach 50 billion by 2022. Inevitably then, these major anticipated changes have certain demands of their own. For instance, the number of HD videos being downloaded/uploaded from Facebook and other sites is continuously increasing, which is leading to an exponential growth in mobile broadband. Imagine having 100,000 people live streaming a football game while it actually happens, all at once.

This is when 5G comes in, which is anticipated to provide larger capacity using frequencies that exceed 6GHz, a number that was never even thought of before for mobile networks. By 2020, 4.5G will be the foundation of mobile broadband network, ensuring ultra-high speed coverage everywhere, while 5G will be predominately used for localized high capacity data with throughput exceeding 10 Gbps, reducing latency down to as little as 1ms.

The telecommunications sector is at the core of the transformation towards the digital economy and smart networked societies. Touch, being one of the leading operators in the region, plays an integral role, especially since it enjoys full awareness of the essential technological and regulatory changes needed. By deploying 4.5G technology, touch will help create the necessary foundation and bring in new digital services to the market.

Touch will continue evolving its 4.5G network with more features and capabilities in the years to come. Meanwhile, plans to start planning for 5G are looming just over the horizon. After all, 2020 is just around the corner.