The 14th edition of “Termium,” the yearly showcase of the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) kicked off last Tuesday at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center (BIEL), obviously following the downward trend in technology exhibitions. Last year, more than 100 exhibitors and international brands were represented at the Termium. This year they were only 50 and no major companies bothered to show up. “International companies are cutting their marketing budgets, they prefer to send their representatives,” explained the organizer, Gaby Deek, president of the Professional Computer Association (PCA). For this 14th edition the exhibition’s area was halved and even the techno music spitting from the stereos couldn’t warm up the atmosphere.
“I am very disappointed. I expected new releases, but this exhibition looks more like an antiquities museum” joked Joseph, a young engineer. Amid big digital clocks, professional printers, LCD TVs and even massage seats, the very latest in computer and information technology was, indeed, hard to find. But at the very back of the exhibition, we could see some people crowding around a stand belonging to “Go In Leb,” a start-up which decided to launch at the Termium its innovative navigation system.
This system, a concept actually born years ago but only just arriving in Lebanon, provides detailed online maps of Beirut, showing public services, facilities or restaurants. The Internet penetration rate in Lebanon hardly reaches 30 percent and Termium’s participants seem to be fully aware of the fact that Lebanon is badly touched by the well-known “digital divide.”
According to the PCA’s president, the global economic crisis is only shedding light on the structural shortcomings of the ICT market in Lebanon: “The political instability crippled infrastructure projects. For instance there is no decent broadband in Lebanon. Talking about exporting any hardware, software or telecommunications technologies is, of course, not on the agenda.”
The Lebanese government recently signed a $65 million contract with the Indian trust Tata to install the first fiber-optic cable in the country – expected in June 2010.
“The ICT sector in Lebanon is still witnessing sustained growth of 12 to 13 percent year on year. But compared to global figures, this growth should reach an average of 30 percent” deplored Deek.
Usually dedicated to “solution providers,” the 14th edition of the Termium seems to be itself looking for solutions. Meetings and discussion groups focusing on the sector’s repositioning stood in for the traditional demos and deals.
The “Digital Devide” in Lebanon has become all the more critical, with many neighboring countries in the Middle-East and in the Gulf leading prosperous businesses and ever-growing investments in the ICT sector.
Gitex, the technology event which took place in Dubai in October, gathered more than 130,000 visitors while Termium barely attracted 25,000, according to Promofair, the event co-organizer.
But Deek is not pessimistic. “We have to focus on enlarging the ICT domestic market. I am convinced that the Diaspora can be used as an efficient platform, relaying the Lebanese entrepreneurial spirit.”
What drives Deek to pursue such an avenue is the failure of Lebanon itself in using the traditional means to build up the ICT market, meaning public funds, Research and Development budgets, and, of course, bank investments.
“Meeting the digital challenge is putting our country on the road to salvation. ICT is the major vector for economic growth in the next decades” concluded Deek.