TRIPOLI: Libya's state-owned mobile phone operator al-Madar launched the first 4G services in the North African country, a rare investment in a country hit by years of political turmoil and violence.
Public services have deteriorated since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with frequent clashes between armed groups, political divisions and a lack of funding as much of the state budget is spent on a public payroll and welfare state.
The service, equivalent to ten times the speed of the previous 3G Internet, was activated at al-Madar's headquarters in Tripoli.
"The service and establishment of the 4G+ network was not an easy task. We were confronted with many difficulties and obstacles, both in terms of financing or the security situation that hindered implementation," al-Madar Chairman Abdulkhaliq Ashour told reporters at a ceremony.
He said the 4G service works for now in the Greater Tripoli area and will follow soon to the eastern city of Benghazi and other cities.
But expanding to the south hit by even greater instability than the coastal north will depend on better security. "We can't send our engineers to work in such conditions," he said.
Internet users complained on the company's website on Facebook that the package price of 70 Libyan dinars (around US$18) for download speeds of 10 MB was excessive.
"It's (4G+) for first time in North Africa but (it's) expensive. Over time I hope they reduce the price," said Mohamed Al-Azraq while shopping in a busy street for mobile phones.
Ashour rejected the criticism.
"The comparison with neighbouring countries in terms of price is not objective. We do not benefit from being a public sector and we are treated as a private sector," he told Reuters.
The firm, which is owned by the Libyan post, telecommunication and IT holding company, was established in 1995.
Mobile communications in Libya have suffered frequent interruptions in recent years due to power cuts and infrastructure damage caused by unauthorised construction, sabotage and theft.
(US$1 = 1.3812 Libyan dinars)
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Ulf Laessing/Keith Weir)