Main trends

Expansion of 3G and 4G coverage is helping drive the uptake of mobile broadband services, despite delays in service launches, slow rollouts and issues around affordability. Nowadays smartphones are the preferential point of access to the Internet for the majority of Arab users and phones have surpassed desktop or laptop computers in terms of time spent accessing the Internet daily in the Arab World (Salem, F. 2017).

According to the company App Annie specialising in app market data and insights, entertainment and social apps (both free and paid) dominate the top ten of the most downloaded apps from both Apple’s iOS app store and Google Play. Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram confirm their dominant positions. Games and puzzles also rank high, both paid and free. Besides these, it is worth mentioning that, according to App Annie data, among the top ten apps downloaded (both from the Apple’s iOS store and Google Play) during the month of September 2018 there is the Lebanese app Anghami. This is today the Arab world’s biggest home-grown music streaming service. Founded in 2012 by two Lebanese entrepreneurs, Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib, it provides Arabic and international music to stream and download for offline mode.

As far as mobile money is concerned, Lebanon has a sophisticated banking industry and the percentage of adults with an account at a financial institution is almost 50 percent (2014 World Bank’s Global Findex). The banks of the country have begun implementing mobile money, both mobile payments and mobile banking. Registered Syrian refugees have access to a mixed system of aid: e-cards and cash. Those who have e-cards cannot use mobile banking. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) 2012 report, the implementation of mobile money is being done by the banks on their own and in conjunction with Mobile payments suppliers within Lebanon.

However, according to the latest ArabNet report titled “Lebanese innovation economy for tech startups in 2018”, which highlights the main challenges local entrepreneurs are facing in the country, one of the main challenges facing startups in Lebanon is the lack of an e-government (89 percent of respondents), which ends up costing founders to physically do their paperwork. This is considered very time consuming and expensive. Moreover, the report reveals that trusting and usage of online payment methods in Lebanon and the region are considered a top problem which burdens e-commerce based businesses. Most consumers are either reluctant, or unable, to conduct e-commerce activities, for the limited access that many have to bank accounts, and as a result, credit and debit cards.