Is The iPhone Really Getting 4G From Alfa?

A couple of weeks ago, when Apple released its 7.1 update for iOS, it also brought with it an update that enabled Lebanese iPhones to access the country’s newly launched 4G network.

I brought the fact that the iPhone wouldn’t work on the country’s 4G network way back when it launched last year due to Apple’s approval of the network being a requirement. Our carriers then scrambled to work with Apple for that purpose. Now, more than a year later, the iPhone will be launched officially by our carriers here and Lebanon is on the list of countries that can get iOS features that were unavailable to us before, such as iCloud Keychain.

However, there is a discrepancy in the rollout of the service between Lebanon’s two carriers that I believe has to be outlined for transparency’s sake and it is the following.

If you own an iPhone 5S on Touch’s network you’ll notice the following switch to enable or disable LTE.

iPhone 5S LTE Touch MTC Lebanon

If you own an iPhone on Alfa’s network you’ll notice the following button to enable or disable 4G.
Alfa iPhone 5 5G Lebanon

Both buttons are not exactly the same because in Apple’s standards, 4G is not exactly LTE. How so? Well, back in 2011 when the iPhone 4S was released, the 4G toggle was enabled for that phone fully knowing that it is not actually a 4G device. The move was criticized by many for being false-advertising. But the iPhone 4S in the United States, on AT&T’s network, clearly showed connectivity to a 4G network which wasn’t an actual 4G network, just a faster version of 3G, which was supported by the iPhone 4S at the time with speeds that can go up to 42Mbps.

iPhone 4S 4G AT&T

Are Lebanese customers also the victim of false advertising?

I doubt a company like Apple would give preferential treatment to a Lebanese network and give it a special “enable 4G” button when that same toggle has been “enable LTE” for every single other carrier around the world, including Lebanon’s other network.

To support the argument is a collection of speedtest results that show a discrepancy between the speed of the service offered by MTC and that of Alfa.

This might as well be considered as unimportant given everything the country is going through. Varying speeds of fast internet are not a priority. But the question still begets itself: why is there such a discrepancy between the country’s two carriers if they are supposedly offering the same service?

All in all, my experience with 4G so far has been subpar but those speeds, regardless of whether they’re actually 4G or not, are desperately needed for DSL. Someone out there take note and make it happen.

The Lebanese Government Doesn’t Want You To Get iPhones

iPhone 5C and 5S

It wasn’t enough for Lebanon’s iPhone users had to deal with the device not being officially released by Apple in the country yet with exorbitant prices and no customer service for their device. Starting in June, regulations have made getting their device into the country harder than ever.

The iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C were released recently around the world to massive customer reception. Their prices in Lebanon, however, are about $1100 for the 16GB version of the iPhone 5S and $720 for the 16GB version of the 5C. To compare, the 16GB version of the iPhone 5S in the United States is $649 whilst the same version of the 5C retails at $549.

Many Lebanese, like yours truly, refuse to succumb to these black market prices and a government which couldn’t give a rat’s ass as long as it’s making enough money for the people running it to remain afloat but still convince everyone that their beloved regulations are in our best interest. Therefore, we buy our devices from abroad and wait for someone to bring them into the country.

Prior to June 2013, that process was as simple as it gets. The phone would come in, we’d unbox it, put it our simcards and we’d be up in running in no time. Today, getting the phone into a state of functionality means getting it registered by a procedure that is retarded but still somehow makes sense for those in governance. Why so? Because they want to take back the millions lost through phone smugglings. How so? By screwing every Lebanese over in the process both bureaucratically and financially.

According to Twitter user Wissam Chidiak, @Fletchergull, the iPhones 5S and 5C don’t get the same treatment that other phones in the market do. Their price tag wasn’t enough, so our government is making it even harder to get an iPhone in Lebanon.

Say you got an iPhone 5S from the United States and wanted to bring it into Lebanon, your passport must not have any other phone registered to it in the past 6 months in order to get the phone working on Lebanese networks. The iPhone 5S or 5C, in order to be registered, take up all 3 phone spots that you are allowed on your passport for a 6 months duration. You won’t be allowed to bring in any other phone to the country if you’ve traveled within that timezone.

Furthermore, the passport being used to get the phone up and running on Lebanese networks must not have entered the country prior to September 24th. The iPhone 5S and 5C were launched on September 20th. Technically, a Lebanese could have had them in the country by the 21st. He wouldn’t have been able to get them registered, however, because that’s what our telecom ministry wants.

Mr. Chidiac has contacted both alfa and Touch, Lebanon’s only telecom operators, who confirmed on separate occasions that the aforementioned regulations are, indeed, true. They were adamant, however, that those regulations are not operator-based and are entirely enforced by the telecom ministry. Chidiac has also tried to contact minister Sehnaoui on Twitter via direct messages, which the minister couldn’t not have read, public mentions of those direct messages which anyone could read. The minister has failed to reply.

You could say that these regulations are in place given that the devices are new and all. But even that argument runs moot with our government because other newer devices do not suffer from the same treatment. Samsung’s Note 3, which was released on September 25th – 5 days after the new iPhones, can be registered with passports that have entered the country prior to the phone’s release. It also takes up only one phone slot out of the three you are allowed. Perhaps our telecom ministry wants to gradually but surely enforce one brand upon the Lebanese population simply due to availability and ease of access?

Our telecom ministry is proud of the advancements that have taken place recently, as is their right, despite some of those achievements having a big “however” plastered all across them – the 4G network comes to mind. At the rate we’re going however, I’m longing for the day when I was able to simply pop in a sim, get it to work then remove it and have my phone “liberated” as is, when my  freedom as a customer to buy whatever I wanted from wherever I wanted, within Lebanese law, was still cherished and not subject to demented, silly and retarded regulations that only serve to inflate the pockets of those benefiting from them. Those regulations, Mr. Sehnaoui, not the 4G network, will be your legacy when you’re a minister of telecom no more.

Apple to Lebanon: You Are Irrelevant

Even though 4G has launched in Lebanon back in May, Lebanon must get a stamp of approval from Apple in order for users to be able to use 4G on their iPhone 5.

With very few phones available in the market able to use 4G, the need to get the iPhone on board seems like a pressing matter to get the service to truly take off with customers. For instance, the Galaxy S4 doesn’t support 4G even though it was released recently.

Several months after the launch of 4G, where is Lebanon from getting its networks approved by Apple?

Well, according to an interview with Alfa CEO Marwan Hayek in the latest issue of Cloud961, our ministry of telecommunication and our telecom operators tried to get in touch with Apple who were less than responsive, telling Lebanon’s concerned sides that Lebanon “doesn’t exist on [their] map.”

Apple Lebanon 4G

As for Apple, and in order for the 4G LTE service to run on their devices, they have to certify you as a mobile operator and acknowledge Lebanon as a mobile market on their map. We had been in contact with them for that purpose and even the Ministry of Telecom did contact them, but they were very slow to reply to us. We have recently signed an NDA with them which should enable the ball to start rolling.

Until only few weeks ago, they didn’t see Lebanon as a serious market and they tell us “you don’t exist on our map”. 

How better would life be if some Lebanese can grasp the concept that Apple introduced regarding our telecom market and extrapolate it, rightfully so, over the many other facets in our country? Maybe then we’d be able to get out of this constant mess we’re in. 

Touch’s Network Not Working & No Fix In Sight

You’d be kidding yourself if you said you could live without your phone nowadays. Now imagine that you had full reception and thought there was nothing wrong with your phone… except people had been trying to call you for hours and all they got was a busy signal or line blocked notification.

I’m not a Touch user. But a friend of mine is one of the many Touch users affected. And her story is one that needs to be told, hopefully someone out there decides to expedite attempts to fix the problem, if any attempts are actually underway.

Here is the story.

2 months ago, several people tried to call my friend’s phone only to get a signal that her line was off. However, she wasn’t notified of any calls even though her phone was active, 3G and all. It wasn’t a constant problem, it would appear sporadically and she didn’t know about it until the people that tried calling her met up with her in person.

She then called Touch’s support center. The employee decided that it was a problem with her brand new iPhone 5. I guess blaming the phone is the way to go. So in order to make sure it wasn’t a sim-card issue, she went ahead and replaced it with a nano sim straight out of Touch, hoping it was cutting the sim part that posed the problem. The employee there said it will definitely solve her problem.

Things were working for a while. It could have been the nano sim or that no one reported problems trying to contact her. The trouble-free duration lasted for a week. So when she started having trouble again, she decided to visit the Touch center again and went through several supervisors, the last of which told her the following:

  • It was a problem they’ve been having for the past 3 months and they didn’t know about it if it weren’t for the huge amount of complaints they received.
  • It doesn’t affect all Touch customers (she gave a 40% figure) and is device independent, meaning the iPhone 5 is not to blame.
  • The supervisor automatically assumed my friend is jobless and told her that other people with jobs have it worse. Because your phone matters are only important if you have a job.
  • When asked what my friend can do to fix it, the supervisor suggested to try calling someone every two hours in order to keep her line “registered” on the network. Then keep doing as such every two hours.
  • When asked if Alfa is having such issues, the supervisor said she doesn’t know. What she knows is that her network is affected.
  • When asked when the issue will be fixed, she said: we don’t know.
  • How is it acceptable for such a problem to be taking place for over 3 months with no fix in sight on Lebanon’s biggest network, I don’t know.

    Will 4G LTE Work On The iPhone in Lebanon?

    As of writing this post and as far as I know, the only device in the Lebanese market that is capable of running 4G/LTE is the iPhone 5. LTE enabled android smartphones have not been imported yet and the current ones in the market do not contain that functionality.

    However, there is one hurdle that I’m not sure if the ministry of telecommunication is familiar with regarding actually getting 4G to work on the iPhone 5.

    No, I’m not talking about the iPhone 5′s model, something I told you about many times before, being the first blog to tell you to buy model A1429 (click here). I am referring to the following:

    “Apple’s power over operators is often overstated, but for the first time, a carrier has confirmed that the company conducts its own tests on an LTE network before deciding whether to enable 4G services on iPhones and iPads for customers of that company.

    Swiss operator Swisscom admitted that was the case to mobile-focused website Telecoms.com, confirming an Apple policy that many had previously believed to be true. A Swisscom spokesperson told Telecoms.com that the company “only enables 4G access after testing their device on an operator’s live network.” (source)

    In order for LTE to be enabled on the only LTE phone in the Lebanese market so far, Apple needs to personally verify that the Lebanese network is up to par. Have we received any Apple technicians in the country to test out the 4G network ahead of the pilot phase and subsequent commercial launch in April?

    The iOS 6.1 update brought LTE functionality to a multitude of European and Middle Eastern countries. The functionality is not via activating the chip in the phone, it is enabling the toggle which allows an iPhone’s user to access their carrier’s LTE network. In order for us to receive this toggle in Lebanon, we will require another iOS update. Will Apple do one specifically for us and possibly other smaller markets in case they come and test our upcoming 4G LTE networks?

    Seeing as much more important markets, especially European ones, had to wait months for the 6.1 update, I doubt.

    This is the current state of the network data settings:

    LTE toggle iPhone 5 - 2

     

    And this is how it should be:

    LTE toggle iPhone 5

    I am writing this because I’m not sure if this issue has been brought up to those who are concerned with launching 4G in Lebanon. Having LTE work on our iPhones is not as simple as having the service activated on our sim cards and it also involves much more than simply having a functional network in the country’s main cities.

    Lebanon’s Upcoming New 3G Plans

    Minister of telecommunications Nicolas Sehnaoui alluded to a possible upgrade of Lebanon’s current mobile data bundles on Twitter last week.

    Nicolas Sehnaoui 3G upgradeAs a result, this is how Lebanon’s 3G plans will be:

    Lebanon 3G upgrade 2013

    I asked the minister on Twitter about a timeframe for these upgrades. He didn’t reply. However, I personally expect such upgrades to be implemented quite soon, possibly before April which is when 4G LTE will have become commercially available (link).

    The caps, when upgraded, will become comparable with abroad. However, we still have a long, long way to go until we can compare our mobile sector with abroad.

    For comparison purposes, during my stay in France I had a subscription with mobile operator Free. For €19 per month, I got the following:

    • Unlimited texts and MMS within France.
    • Unlimited calls to numbers within France.
    • Unlimited calls to non-mobile numbers in 40 countries around the world.
    • Unlimited mobile data caps. Speed throttled after consumption of 3GB. (The speed I got on average was about 3Mbps.)
    • Unlimited access to Free’s Wifi hotspots whenever available – and they were available almost everywhere.

    A lot of unlimited there, right? Will we ever see such plans in Lebanon? Honestly, I don’t think so.

     

    Which iPhone 5 to Buy in Lebanon?

    I told you about this before (here and here) but minister Sehnaoui confirmed it on twitter yesterday.

    Nicolas Sehnaoui iPhone 5 tweets

    For the many Lebanese who will benefit from the price reductions (the phone is going for $800 max these days for the 16GB capacity) to buy the iPhone 5 either for themselves or for their loved ones this Christmas, there’s one important thing you need to ask the shop from which you’re buying the phone: which country did you get it from?

    If they got their iPhone 5 from the United States or Canada, model being A1428, the LTE that will launch later in 2013 won’t work on it as the chips are incompatible.

    If the country of origin is anything in Europe or Australia, then it will work. The model should be A1429.

    If you can’t but buy it from the United States, here’s a way you can do it: send the person buying it for you to an Apple Store and get them to buy a no-contract Verizon iPhone 5. It will have the sim card slot fully unlocked and its LTE capabilities are compatible with the frequency that’ll be launched in Lebanon soon.

    For those of you who have already bought their iPhone 5 without asking about the country of origin, tough luck. Odds are you won’t be able to benefit from LTE once it’s rolled out.