Mobile Phone Purchases in Lebanon To Be Regulated Starting June 1st, 2013

The day we have all been dreading is upon us.

Are you one of those people who ridiculed that $1500 price tag for the iPhone 5 when it was released as you should, bought one on your own from abroad and had a friend bring it over with them and bypass our ridiculous custom fees? Well, you lucked out.

As of June 1st, 2013 that option may not be available to you anymore as part of a new decree to fight phone counterfeits on the Lebanese market which do not possess a true IMEI number (link). Your phone number will have to be registered to your phone’s IMEI number in order for you to get service.

So unless you’re a tourist coming into the country and roaming, you’ll have to pay custom fees on your phone in order to have its IMEI registered and use it on Lebanon’s dismal phone networks: alfa and touch.

What will become even more complicated is you selling your used phone to someone when you want to buy a newer one. If you want to do so, you’ll have to have that phone’s IMEI unregistered to your phone number first, a process they say will happen through texts with your mobile operator or online.

When you buy your new phone, you’ll have a period of 3 months to register it with your carrier. In order to do so, you are asked to keep your purchase receipt.

You can only change 3 phones in 6 months. I can already hear millionaires weeping in sadness.

These new regulations, if applied, are absolutely absurd. A few questions at the top of my head are the following:

  1. Is the best possible way to fight counterfeits across the Lebanese market making it a nightmare for every Lebanese out there to buy and sell mobile phones, a process that should be very straightforward?
  2. Does it make sense to enforce regulations on phones across the board this way when some major smartphone companies, as an example Apple, have yet to officially release their phone in the country and customers have to purchase them at near-black market prices?
  3. What if someone bought their phone abroad as a personal purchase and want to use it here? Do they seriously want us to worry about something other than have the LTE frequencies match and the phone be unlocked? Are we supposed to pay custom fees on every single electronic purchase we make just because it’s the best way to fight those knock-off iPhones and Galaxy S?
  4. How reasonable is it to ask for the nearly 2-million Lebanese who are in possession of phones that don’t even need to be smart to go register them based on a number most of those Lebanese don’t know exist? What happens to those who fail to have their phones registered on September 1st, 2013 – 3 months after the regulations go into effect?
  5. Did anyone  go over the intricate details of this and ask themselves if it’s remotely plausible? How many countries across the world apply this? A google search pointed to India only.

This feels oddly extensive of another decree that took place a few months ago (link) that required Lebanese to go register their phone numbers. Big brother seems to want to watch you even further.

How about we look up to countries where the telecom sector is flourishing and see the steps they’re making in fighting those fake phones and sustain their networks first?

Even so, does a decree on this magnitude even sound reasonable in a country that can’t even manage to apply a simple smoking ban?

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Syrian Jamming of Lebanese Phone Networks?

This is not the first time this happens with me. I called Alfa about it before and they blamed my phone. So now it happened with my iPhone 4S (it previously happened with my iPhone 4) the moment I reached home in the North. A telecom engineer told me it couldn’t be my phone and this is illegal.

I have no idea how something like this is possible. I’m well off the Syrian-Lebanese border so how can I get Syriatel reception all the way on the coast?

It also sticks around for a good 30 minutes unless you force your phone to switch carriers. That also doesn’t always work.

The interesting thing is that if I switch simcards to the Syrian MTN one I got when I visited, it doesn’t work. It’s only with Alfa. Anyone with MTC having this as well? And can anyone explain how such a thing is possible?

Lebanon’s Alfa Introduces U-Chat

I was driving yesterday when I heard an ad on the radio announcing a new type of prepaid plan from Alfa called U-chat. When I got home, I researched about it further and found the offer to be very interesting and unLebanese-like.

U-chat is a new recharge system, next to regular prepaid and Waffer, that’s closer to a plan than a simple credit recharge. Two varieties exist: $9 and $17.5.

You can switch your prepaid line to U-chat and convert U-chat back to prepaid free of charge. The recharges for regular prepaid, not Waffer, apply to U-chat. You can also have someone send you credit if you are low on it.

The following are the plans:

For $9:

For $17.5:

And out-of-plan rates:

 

The 10 or 20 minutes for weekdays are for the whole month. If you finish those 10 or 20 minutes before the month is up, you’re charged 60 cents per minute even if the 20 or 40 minutes for the weekend are not done.

I think the “Out of Plan” charges are overpriced, which makes this the main drawback of the plan, when it comes to minutes and extra MB consumption.

The plans in themselves are interesting considering we’ve never had a texting, calling and data bundle in Lebanon before.  This a good step. But seeing as such plans are apparently not impossible, shouldn’t there be a bigger variety especially for users who might need more than 250MB per month and more than 60 minutes?

Lebanon To Get LTE Along With 3G?

We all know that we have the worst internet in the world in Lebanon. Our politicians are mostly always full of promises and little action when it comes to almost every regard of our lives so treat this as yet another one of those “talks” that get you excited, but hopefully this time something will actually happen.

So 3G is coming to Lebanon come September, apparently. We will finally have decent internet to use, albeit it will only be on our mobile phones. But it’s a start. Many people, however, were critical of the imminent implementation of 3G saying that the world is already moving to 4G or LTE technologies, which offer much higher speeds. Lebanon implementing third-generation technologies while the rest of the world is moving on to fourth (or even fifth) generation stuff isn’t really stepping up your game in a competitive market.

However, it looks like Lebanon will be receiving LTE upgrades in some areas, while 3G is more spread out over the country as a whole – which is very, very good news. After all, even more advanced countries such as the US have not implemented LTE in all of the country, only in major cities so far. So what do you expect from a country with much more limited resources?

According to this article, MTC Touch (one of the two mobile operators in the country) has built over 850 3.5G stations in Lebanon, of which 200 will offer 3.9G services (giving you double the speed that 3.5G can offer, about 40 Mb/s) and 50 of which will be LTE stations, allowing download speeds of around 173 Mb/s.

And if this wasn’t good enough, the prices that are being thought of (and I’m sure this will apply to Alfa as well since this is a monopoly) are not bad at all. In fact, they look to be very promising. Prices could start from a mere $10 (and go to over $100 depending on the download speed of choice) allowing data quotas of about 2GB for smartphones (both upload and download) and over 15GB or even 20GB for laptops.

Alfa will issue a formal statement about the 3G services it will offer on Thursday, May 12.