Lebanon’s Phone Registration Procedure Needs To Be Rethought

My iPhone 5 fell in water almost a month ago. I didn’t know, so it sat in a puddle absorbing all the moisture it can get until its screen went bust.

We don’t have certified personnel for the iPhone in the country who can fix it and I’ll be sure they’re providing the best possible material. The man I took my iPhone to wanted to switch the screen to something that looked fishy, cost $200 and didn’t even work that well. He blamed my phone.

That same screen would cost about $300 in places around Beirut. So I decided to follow my instinct and send my phone to my family abroad for an out of warranty replacement, which is what happened.

The phone was brought into the country by an old man I barely knew and who had no idea he should register the phone at the airport. I figured it’s not a big deal, I’ll just take my passport the following day and head out to the nearest telecom center to get the procedure done.

That wasn’t possible. My passport didn’t work because I had been in Lebanon for more than a month since I traveled last. Obviously, dragging the 85 year old man who brought in the phone to one of those centers was out of the question. So what was I supposed to do to get my phone working on our networks?

I was lucky enough to know an exchange student who had been in the country for two weeks. So he did me a favor, fetched his passport and registered the phone for me. The process, advertised to be easy and seamless, took half a day and several car trips around Beirut just for something that should be second nature to anyone who gets a phone: the device getting reception. I have no clue what I would have done hadn’t the exchange student been available.

It is said these procedures are to prevent illegal smuggling of devices, provide another source of income for our government and basically make our life “easier” when it comes to phone purchases. But is that happening with phone prices taking a hike and the procedure having many parts of it that are apparently not thought out?

What if a relative sends you a gift from abroad with someone you don’t know at all and that person doesn’t register it. Are you supposed to take a trip to Syria just to get your passport stamped in order to get your phone to work?

I checked the online brochure the ministry posted back in May to see if there was a workaround on the matter. There was none. If you purchased a device online, you’d have a way to get it registered after paying the exorbitant taxes and using the customs’ receipt. But you’re basically out of luck in case you don’t have a recently stamped passport at your disposal.

Buying a phone and getting it to work by inserting a sim is apparently too simple for a country like this. But it’s all okay as long as we keep providing revenue for the government.

Advertisements

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. 

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.

Lille, France

I spent the month of August discovering the gorgeous city of Lille in Northern France. I went there for a clerkship at one of the city’s hospitals and I absolutely fell in love with its culture, its people and everything it had to offer. Lille is one of France’s biggest cities and yet it still has this rustic feel to it – especially in its older streets, aptly called Vieux Lille.

I made a lot of memories in that city. I won’t go down memory lane and enumerate them for you because I’m fairly certain you couldn’t care less. But I am thankful for getting the chance to go there and meet the people that I met and make those memories that I cherish now.

Xavier & Camille, our amazing French hosts and friends that made us feel at home – literally – for the entire month that we spent there, this is for you. Thank you for everything.

Here are some of the many pictures that I took of the beautiful city of Lille. I’m not a professional so these are not meant to be impeccable – but I do hope my love for the city comes across in them.

Palais des Beaux Arts

Palais des Beaux Arts

Another old street in the city

Another old street in the city

A parc bench in the city

A parc bench in the city

Rue de Bethune

Rue de Bethune

The city's opera house

The city’s opera house

Vieux Lille

Vieux Lille

The view from our apartment

The view from our apartment

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A war monument

A war monument

One of the city's cathedrals

One of the city’s cathedrals

Lille France Street

Welch - one of the city's specialities

Welch – one of the city’s specialities

Lille France Restaurant Comptoir 44

Inside one of Lille's cathedrals

Inside one of Lille’s cathedrals

A mural found in one of Lille's subway and train stations: Lille Europe

A mural found in one of Lille’s subway and train stations: Lille Europe

One of the specialties of the North

One of the specialties of the North

Beer, another specialty

Beer, another specialty

Another street in the old parts of the city

Another street in the old parts of the city

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

The opera house

The opera house

Gargoyles

Gargoyles

The city's heart - place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

The city’s heart – place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

Lille doesn't like Sarkozy

Lille doesn’t like Sarkozy

Old Street Lille vieux Lille France

Another street in old Lille

These pictures were taken using a Nikon D5100 and edited using my iPhone 5’s Camera+ app.

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.

The Facebook Camera App: My Impressions

Seeing as I have a US iTunes account, which I dearly cherish, I got to download the Facebook Camera app, currently exclusive for iPhone, before its availability on other stores. So I tested it for a whole day on my iPhone 4S and these are my initial impressions.

It’s pretty fast. Once you launch the app, it takes you immediately to a news feed version for Facebook’s photos. You can see pictures that your friends uploaded and comment on them. This is where the pictures you take will go as well. You can swipe among the pictures your friends were tagged in. Loading the pictures is much faster than the regular Facebook app, which I think is horrible at handling pictures.

Facebook Camera is streamlined enough to post pictures on your Facebook timeline without much effort. Once you take the picture, you’ll get many filters to choose from before sharing your work. Those filters are a total of 14 (apart from normal). You access them by tapping on a brush button similar to that in Apple’s iPhoto app. They are similar to the filters you get in instagram but are named differently, obviously. You can upload pictures in batches, faster than with the regular Facebook app, and in higher resolution.

Once you’ve chosen the filter of choice, you click on the button to post. Now you’re back to familiar territory, similar to the Facebook app for iOS. However, you can actually save a post draft here in case you decided you wanted to save sharing the picture for later. That’s something I hope they add for the regular Facebook app.

Once you share the picture and it uploads, it’ll appear on your timeline as posted from “Facebook Camera.”

Overall, I think it’s an interesting app. I really like the icon, actually. But it’s not quite a home-run. Will it overtake instagram? I doubt that’s Facebook’s intention but they’re not betting right if they think it will. While it has its advantages, such as saving the original picture in your camera roll immediately after taking it, it has its drawbacks as well. For instance, it doesn’t save the modified picture in your camera roll, unlike Instagram.

Instagram has become so ingrained with users that uprooting it will take much more than an app which shares exclusively on Facebook and using it means flooding un-wanting users with pictures of things you find interesting but they have no interest in.

At the end of the day, where Facebook Camera falls short is in it not being a photo-exclusive platform. It comes with the baggage that is “Facebook.” Bonafide photography applications, such as Instagram and Camera+, cater to those who have a hobby for photography. They created an environment where those users can stretch their wings with exotic shots that they wouldn’t necessarily want to share with their Facebook friends.

Facebook Camera caters to the Facebook crowds whose pictures are less interesting than the Instagram crowd. But they are much, much more numerous. For once, however, Facebook has created a mobile app that is actually good. Hopefully that’s a sign of what’s to come for the regular Facebook app.

Brace yourselves, everyone, the Facebook Camera posters are coming.

Lebanese iPhone Users: How To Get AT&T To Unlock It

This works for any iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G and original iPhone purchased for full-retail price from the US and it’s locked to AT&T, using hacks to make it work in Lebanon.

I currently have the iPhone 4S, which I got factory unlocked. However, I went through every iPhone update except the 3G so the first one I got, the original iPhone, was locked to AT&T and I managed to get an unlock process opened for it today going through the following route.

1 – Write down the phone’s IMEI number.

2 – Download the application “Vonage” on any smartphone that has it. This is an app that will allow you to call US numbers for free. You can get the iOS version here.

3 – Call the following AT&T number using Vonage: +18003310500 – wait for the operator to finish talking then press 1. When it starts talking again, press 0 immediately so you don’t go through the whole list and it will connect you to a customer care representative. Your waiting time shouldn’t be long. For me, it was less than a minute.

4 – The first thing the representative will ask of you is for your AT&T number. Tell them you don’t have have an AT&T contract and that you heard about the iPhone unlocks and would like to unlock your contract-free iPhone, which you bought for full retail price.

5 – At that point, they will take your name, last name, email address and ask you for a phone number. Let them know that you are currently outside of the United States so you prefer to be contacted via email, and make sure they spell out the email for you. However, they’re going to require a phone number to open a case for you so give them your Lebanese phone number in the following format: 961xxxxxxx .

6 – Then they will ask you for the IMEI number. Make sure you have it on you and read it to them. They will repeat it for you. Make sure they have it correctly. A one digit difference can mess things up.

7 – Soon after, they will put you on hold for a few minutes as they check the information you gave them. If all checks out, which it should, they will give you a case number. Make sure you have a paper and pen at your disposal to write it down. Then read it back to them to make sure you have it correctly.

8 – You’re done. Once you’re given a case number, it means your request has to go through the motions of reaching Apple and them sending you the unlock code. I was given a delay till April 17th but I expect to have my original iPhone unlocked sooner.

The whole process took about 20 minutes to finish. It’s pretty streamlined and straightforward. Don’t panic about your English – the customer care representative I spoke to was not American and my English was better than him. Make sure you have all the info you need prepped and you’re good to go.

Just an extra hint, American customer service is actually quite awesome. They care about their customers’ well-being, unlike many Lebanese companies. So be truthful, meaning don’t go all Lebanese-7arboo2 on them, and they’ll be more than glad to help you.

Hope this was of help.