Lebanese iTunes Store Launches Movies Section

Who doesn't love Wall-E?

Who doesn’t love Wall-E?

Apple seems to be adopting a very aggressive strategy rolling out new iTunes services to international markets. Only days after Lebanon got the music iTunes store added to its already existing AppStore, the country’s iTunes Store now has its own bonafide movies section, albeit the selection isn’t that extensive.

Here are the current top-selling movies at the Lebanese store:

Lebanese iTunes Store top movies

The prices range from $9.99 for the Disney bunch to $18.99 for new releases such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Each movie is more than 1.5GB of downloads in SD format and about 4GB in HD, which makes you wonder: how are the people buying these movies actually downloading them?

Lebanese iTunes Store movies

There’s also a separate section for Arabic movies which currently contains a pitiful selection of obviously horrid Egyptian movies.

All in all, this is a nice improvement for the store. The music section seems to have decent enough sales to have a top 200 ranking, although most of those are not Lebanese music which discredits the idea that Lebanese expats would be the store’s main clientele.

Hopefully a books section gets launched soon and the Lebanese iTunes store would become complete. Now let’s instill the mentality in people’s heads that buying online using a debit or credit card is okay, secure and that trusted companies are not out there to get you.

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Alternatives To The Viber Ban in Lebanon

In case you didn’t know, Alfa has blocked Viber on its 3G network and MTC will follow suit later on seeing as the demand to stop Viber came from the ministry of telecommunications.

I don’t want to go into speculation as to the reason of the ban and I have asked the minister on twitter about that but he didn’t reply. It seems this whole #ProtectPrivacy balderdash only works when it’s aimed at your political opponents. This is proof that what I said is true – the ministry doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your freedom except when it serves them politically.

Incidentally, Lebanese Twitter and Facebook users were not up in a fit about this as they were about #ProtectPrivacy thing. Guess it only works when they’re driven by some politician. It feels good to be right.

Anyway, seeing as Viber is not the only VoIP app available on Apple’s AppStore and Google Play – or whatever that store is called, I figured I’d make a list of other apps that you can use and which haven’t been blocked yet. The VPN fix requires you to pay for a subscription eventually. Hopefully by the time they block all other viber-like apps, some Lebanese would have seen through all the ministry’s bullshit and decided to call them up on it.

1 – SideCar (iOS/Android):

This is a whatsapp alternative that also allows you to call those that have activated it on their numbers. It’s also free.

2 – Vonage (iOS/Android):

This app allows you to call US and Canada numbers for free and most importantly, it lets you call other people who have Vonage.

3 – Tango (iOS/Android):

Has the same components as Viber and then some more such as video chats.

4 – Fring (iOS/Android):

Allows free calls, video calls and free group calls to those who have it activated on their number.

Telecom, Mobile TV and LTE 4G in Lebanon

I was recently invited to an event held by the Ministry of Telecommunications in Beirut to discuss the accomplishments of this ministry throughout the past year.

Many numbers were unveiled to show improvements from year to year. For instance, the number of data subscribers in Lebanon has tripled in the past year, due mostly to the introduction of the 3G data bundles. The country had about 200,000 subscribers in September 2011 and more than 900,000 in September 2012. The speed has increased 18 fold, from 70Kbps to 1.8Mbps, on average. Although I believe the comparison is slightly unfair since we’re comparing different generations.

Smartphone penetration in the country is more than 50%. DSL subscribers have increased by about 40,000 over the past year, up from 200,000, which I found not to be that impressive considering all the price drops. The average speed is now 1Mbps. But nothing was mentioned about improving the speed further up to the speeds that are currently advertised as possible. For instance, as a subscriber with IDM, I pay $50 per month for 2Mbps and 20GB in quota. I get the 20GB but I only get 1Mbps. However, since I live in the North and we don’t usually get upgrades quickly here, the comparison may not be accurate. But it’s the same situation in my apartment in Achrafieh where I also get only 1Mbps.

The minister also announced that 5 companies have gained rights to start introducing data services in the country, making the total 7 with Alfa and MTC. I believe this should increase competitiveness and maybe bring the prices down although no timeframe for the introduction of these companies’ services was announced.

When it comes to the current generation we have, 3G, it was announced that Alfa, for instance, has over 800 towers to cover a lot of Lebanon. My problem though is that the advertised coverage is still greater than the realistic one. Many areas which have 3G theoretically on Alfa’s map are not covered in real life. However, the coverage has definitely improved throughout the year and seems to be progressing as such. My problem with 3G, and this is even worse with the upcoming 4G, is the pricing. I don’t have a problem paying $19 per month for a data subscription… if I got more than 500MB. With 3G and being a little careful, the 500MB can be barely enough. But I believe that if the ministry’s hope of getting the country high up the digital age is to be realized, then the quotas need to be drastically improved.

For the full report, click here.

Mobile TV:

MTC announced a service that they will be unveiling in the first quarter of 2013 called Mobile TV. The service will allow users to watch a selection of movies, documentaries, series and sports reports on the go. They will also be able to stream live TV without going to a channel’s specific website.

Mobile TV, however, will not be using your existing quota. After all, what will 500MB do if you wanted to watch a movie on it? MTC will be selling Mobile TV as bundles which will allow you access to a specific number of channels. The prices were not decided upon.

I personally think this service is slightly more useful than “changing the tone to a song one” because it’ll be very hard to top that in the matters of uselessness and silliness. But overall, I think this is fairly useless. Perhaps some users who actually don’t own a TV set, rare as they may be, will find it useful. But for the absolute majority, I believe the cost-effectiveness of it, especially if you combine it with the much more useful mobile data, will deter them from actually becoming loyal to the service, although I see many trying it out for a month or two.

After all, why would I need TV on my mobile?

Either way, you can check out the demo of mobile TV here.

4G LTE:

As I had told you before, the frequency that Lebanon will be deploying for LTE is band 3 which means that most commercial phones equipped with LTE coming from outside the US will work on the network, though most LTE users at first will be iPhone 5 users because most LTE-equipped android phones haven’t been released in Lebanon yet, as far as I was told by an Android-enthusiast.

The area that Alfa’s LTE will be able to cover indoor spreads from about Geitawi to Downtown and down to some parts of Baabda during the initial launch phase. MTC did not unveil a coverage map. The coverage outdoors expands slightly but this is basically the area that will be covered.

The red areas are the indoor coverage and the gray areas next to them are the outdoor coverage

20 sites have been equipped in order to provide this coverage and Alfa will be sending out mobile sites to universities across the country to show students the service. They’ve also launched the pilot testing phase yesterday with commercial launch aimed at the second quarter of 2013.

I asked them about trying to be part of the pilot testing but they said the people have already been chosen, which I thought was disappointing because I’m sure I’m not on that list. I also asked them about potential prices for the 4G LTE bundles and they said decisions haven’t been made yet. However, I shared my concern that 500 MB quotas and 4G will be absolutely ridiculous. I basically stood there as the Alfa spokesperson showed me LTE speeds and counted to 5 in front of him as I pointed out to the data he had downloaded in those 5 seconds. And that was my entire monthly quota.

The average is for the last 30 seconds. This was taken at the beginning of the test. A few seconds later, the average became well over 90Mbps

The speeds that I was shown averaged around 90Mbps with Alfa and about 70Mbps with MTC. However, they both admitted that these are lab speeds that are as such because they’re the only ones using the network. When the pilot testing phase ends and 4G becomes available for the public, expect speeds to be much less than 90Mbps although far, far higher than their 3G counterpart. After all, do you need more than 30Mbps as speeds?

Upload speeds, though, were far – far less impressive with both MTC and Alfa averaging 1Mbps.

Nothing was mentioned about whether rolling out 4G will be as problematic as when 3G was released. Hopefully the infrastructure was improved drastically since then. Either way, 4G is rolling out with a much smaller area of coverage than 3G and I don’t expect that to change very fast because even in very advanced countries, 4G LTE is present only in major cities so far.

Other:

It was announced that the process with which a company can get an ISP license is now very easy. So expect a lot of new ISPs to pop up soon. Alfa said that about 195,000 subscribers use their U-chat plan. Alfa has over 1.8 million active subscribers. MTC did not unveil a number but last time I checked, they had more than 2 million, which brings mobile penetration in Lebanon close to 100%.

The Beirut Digital District is a nice venue and the event was highly organized. However a lot of the presenters, even though they hold high position jobs at their corresponding companies, had absolutely no idea how to give a presentation.

Ericsson unveiled a very cool and creepy device which got the attention of everyone there which turns your body into data storage. For example, you go to a hotel and you book a room. The concierge programs your lock to the palm of your hand. So in order to open the door, you only need to touch the doorknob. Futuristic, you bet.

Nothing was mentioned about upgrades to the ADSL network which I found to be odd seeing as fiber optics had been a discussion point for a while now.

A service that I believe should be added to the mobile sector is being able to change carriers while keeping your number. I don’t see that discussed anywhere.

Overall, while there’s obviously a lot of room for improvement – especially when you get a taste of how the telecom sector is in other more advanced countries – the work being done is impressive.

4G LTE in Lebanon: The Technical Aspect

Plus961 has written about Lebanon starting initial testing for LTE in about two weeks. The article that Rami quoted, which was published in Annahar (click here), sets a timeframe for initial pilot testing starting November 16th while commercial rollout will start in select areas across the country on April 23rd.

The area that will first be covered is Beirut city, from Geitawi onwards. LTE theoretical speeds according to Alfa testing have reached 100Mbps. Actual speeds will be quite less, however, around 40-50 Mbps in best case scenarios. The average speeds that my American friends on Verizon get are approximately 30Mbps.

A source in Alfa has told me that the frequency bands Lebanon will be rolling out will be band 3 (1800 MHz), initially, with other frequencies added later on, which makes the Lebanese LTE network compatible with most international 4G handsets, apart from the ones that are made proper for AT&T, Canada’s Bell, Rogers and Telus and a few Mexican carriers who have opted to use the frequencies that are employed by the aforementioned carriers: band 4 (AWS) and 17 (700b MHz). I assume it’ll be the same for MTC.

This means that prospective iPhone 5 buyers need to buy their phones from European countries or Australia. The American Verizon iPhone works as well.

The plans, however, haven’t been set yet although I don’t expect them to be up to par with the potential demand. LTE is very fast internet and any plan that doesn’t go into several GBs in quota is doomed to be quite useless. Theoretically, you can burn through the 500MB plan (the most popular one among 3G subscriptions) in less than a minute.

On the other hand, and even though LTE is needed to move the country forward in the ever growing digital age, should we be moving towards it when there are a lot of areas in the country without proper basic coverage, let alone 3G? For instance, my hometown in the Batroun caza barely gets any reception. 3G is unheard of over there.

Moreover, moving towards LTE will also get our ADSL speeds to considerably lag behind with the optimal state households get being 1Mbps.

But either way, since many believe I criticize too much, I’ll leave at that and hope LTE rolling out in Lebanon turns out better than the way 3G was unveiled.

Remove Your Phone Number from True Caller App

Most of us have the “True Caller” app on our phones to let us know who’s behind those contact-less numbers we keep getting.

But I, for one, don’t like the app and I think it’s too intrusive. It uses your entire contact list and uploads the numbers, along with the contacts you have, to their servers for others to use for reference.

Paranoid people, of course, eat up True Caller. They absolutely have to know who’s that mystery person who keeps calling. If you’re not one of those people and don’t want your phone number to be searchable on that database, there is a solution for you.

In order to unlist yourself from the True Caller database, click on this link. It will make your phone number unsearchable.

The number has to be of the format +country code-phone number, i.e. a Lebanese number would be of the following form: +9613xxxxxx.

The unlisting is offered by the True Caller app itself and if enough people use it, it would eventually defeat the purpose of the app, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though I don’t think many people will jump on this.

Anyway, I’ve unlisted myself. It’s your turn now.

Thank you Roudy for the link.

iPhone 5 Nano Sim Now Available in Lebanon

 

Remember when we were all worried about the iPhone 5 being the first phone ever to use nano-sim cards and wondering how that will play out for us Lebanese mobile users?

Well, it seems the wait to get nano-sim cards into the country hasn’t been long. Alfa has announced yesterday on their Facebook page that nano-sim cards are now available in the country.

I was sort of hoping for a longer wait actually. Why?

Because the phone is being priced at around $1300 for the 16GB one currently (ser2a 3al mafdou7) and I figured the more we wait for nano sims, the more the price drops. Either way, there’s already a way to cut down microsims into nano sims. But doing that comes with the premium that is the iPhone 5 theft price in Lebanon by all of the country’s cellular shops.

No idea about MTC though. So if any of you know anything regarding nano-sim availability on Lebanon’s other carrier, let me know.

Update: MTC has unveiled its nano sim cards a few minutes ago. So both of Lebanon’s mobile carriers now offer nano sims to their customers. 

iPhone 5 in Lebanon: The LTE “Issue”

Many people have been asking which countries they can purchase an iPhone 5 from and have it function normally in Lebanon.

The confusion is because the iPhone 5 will support different frequencies of LTE depending on the country you get it from. For a full list of those frequencies, click here.

What many Lebanese users are forgetting is the following.

  1. We are not getting LTE in Lebanon anytime soon. I have it from trusted sources within Alfa and MTC that it will be a few years before LTE goes out of trial phase in Lebanon, which obviously makes sense. I mean it hasn’t been a year even since 3G was rolled out.
  2. By the time LTE becomes available in Lebanon, Apple would have released iPhone 10 and odds are you would have given up on your iPhone 5 by then and upgraded.
  3. The iPhone 5 keeps the same frequencies the 4S and the 4 used to connect to 3G and older cellular generations and as we all know, older generation iPhones work well  – or as well as a smartphone can work – in Lebanon.

What does it all mean?

It means that you can buy an unlocked iPhone 5 from the US, France, Italy, Australia – any country basically – and have it work in Lebanon. Your only problem remaining is to find a nano sim. Good luck with that.