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.

    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.

     

    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.

    iPhone 5 in Lebanon: The Nano Sim Problem

    20120917-104841.jpg

    With Apple unveiling their new iPhone 5, a problem has surfaced for Lebanese users who want to purchase the phone and it is the SIM card that the phone uses.
    Ditching the micro sim that was made popular by the iPhone 4, the iPhone 5 uses a new generation of SIM cards called nano sims.
    The standard was only approved a few months ago so it’s still not available in many countries and the iPhone 5 will be the first phone to use this standard.

    20120917-105201.jpg

    Unlike micro sims, you can’t cut a bigger sim into a nano sim which is how most early iPhone 4 adopters managed before the microsim became available in early fall of 2010, almost 3 months after the initial release of the iPhone 4.

    Alfa has issued a statement that it will be getting nano sims soon. But that’s soon in Lebanese standards which might mean a few months. So for those who rushed to pre-order their iPhones already and expect to have them in Lebanon in the coming weeks, you’ll be stuck with your older phones until an “unconfirmed” date.

    20120917-105549.jpg

    But hey, at least you’ll have that gorgeous device to keep you busy until then. Right?

    4G In Lebanon? Apparently Yes.

    A very good friend recently told me that her sister was getting a 4G signal on her phone in Batroun. While I still don’t have 3G on Alfa, it looks like MTC are moving on to the next generation already. I would assume Batroun is not their top priority and other regions have this as well.

    I find it interesting that it hasn’t been advertised anywhere yet. I remember reading that LTE and 4G would be available in Lebanon starting summer 2012. We all thought they were kidding back then. While I still don’t think it will happen by then, it looks like 4G in Lebanon is closer than we think.

    I guess we should’ve gotten those 4G LTE iPads.

    Alfa and MTC Introduce New Blackberry Services: Cheaper and Less Features

    After minister of telecommunications Nicolas Sehnaoui announced on Twitter that he will be making new announcements on April 30th, I was interested in what he was going to say.

    The news is for Blackberry users, however decreasing they may be. No, the service has not been made cheaper as people are saying. No, you don’t simply pay $8 for the 200MB you used to pay $24 for. Instead of having one blackberry service now, called Blackberry Internet Service (BIS), Alfa and MTC  have introduced two other plans: Blackberry social ($8 for 200MB) and BlackBerry complete ($12 for 200MB). The original BIS plan has been upgraded to $24 for 500MB.

    You can see all the details here:

    For BlackBerry Social, you can’t add other chatting services nor can you activate email. For BlackBerry complete you get to activate one email account.

    I really don’t get the point behind this. They want new users? What’s the purpose of the 5 other mobile data plans that both carriers have, then?

    1) Why is the 500MB for BlackBerry still more expensive than the 500MB for regular mobile data?

    2) Why introduce new plans when there are room for improvements in the original one to begin with? For most BlackBerry users, 200MB per month is more than enough (their phones are not exactly data heavy). Why not cut the price of the original plan, which has way more functionality?

    As Twitter user UxSoup said, the more suitable name for this would be BS Social.

    In other news, I’m still waiting on the unlimited internet at off-peak hours.