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.

3G in Lebanon: Prices, Launch Date and Testing Experience

For those who don’t know, minister of telecommunications Nicolas Sahnaoui unveiled the 3G packages we’ve all been waiting for today.

The main package will be 500MB for a $19 monthly fee.

A smaller 100 MB package for $10 exists as well for those who don’t need extensive data.

Nothing has been mentioned about more data extensive package or if there will be a package suitable for those who need a laptop 3G connection via a dongle only.

Each extra MB of consumption will be charged at 4 cents/MB.

The service will launch on November 1st in Beirut and Mount Lebanon on both carriers Alfa and MTC and will be available for both prepaid and postpaid lines.

Sahnaoui also announced that 4G will be available in Lebanon starting Summer 2012, allowing speeds up to 100 Mb/s, after the initial phase of the fiber optics infrastructure upheaval ends.

What do I personally think of the proposed plans? The $10 one (if true) doesn’t make sense. I’d rather pay double to get five times the allowed quota. But is 500MB enough with 3G? I hardly think so. It’s very easy to burn through them without knowing due to the great speed the service provides. On the bright side, the cost of an extra MB isn’t that much so it might help a little.

However, does the claim that Lebanon’s 3G is the cheapest in the region hold up? Let’s look at 3G prices in KSA:

1GB for 50 Riyals (20,000L.L. or about $13.5), 5GB for1 100 Riyals (40,000L.L. or $36), Unlimited for 350 Riyals(140,000L.L. or $93)
So we definitely do not have the cheapest 3G in the region.

However how is 3G? I can answer that question.

After testing the service for four weeks, I can attest to its reliability – especially in Beirut – on alfa. I was getting speeds no less than 2 Mbps in Achrafieh and faced next to no data interruptions using my iPhone’s hotspot feature to connect to my laptop. I’ve gotten download speeds nearing 300 KB/s, which is more than what I got using 3G in Spain. For reference, a 350 MB episode of the Vampire Diaries took me about 20 minutes to download, which is almost unheard of in Lebanon.

Cynics have been saying that the 3G speeds the 4000 testers were getting are good just because you only have 4000 testers. However, after speaking to an alfa representative, he confirmed that they were not deploying the whole bandwidth they had for those 4000 testers so it could be that when 3G becomes available for the public, speed degradations will be rare.

3G coverage in Jbeil, however, has been very spotty. I didn’t manage to get 3G almost anywhere I went in the city and the moments I did get 3G, download speed was horrible, knowing that Jbeil was one of the covered cities during the testing period.

Tripoli, which wasn’t on the map my carrier alfa provided me with, had great 3G coverage, with speeds averaging 1.7 Mbps as well.

It is interesting to note, however, that I managed to get up to 5Mbps on 3G in Sodeco area in Achrafieh:


Alfa and MTC Announce New Prepaid Packages

Lebanese Mobile Carriers Alfa and MTC have announced new packages for prepaid lines and they feature decent cuts on pricing.

Alfa has revealed the new lineup via its website, and called the new line: Waffer (Lebanese for save-up). You’ll get the chance to buy a new Alfa line for $4.55 and apply the new plans to it, or apply the new plans to your existing line.

The plans are as follows:

Starter: $10 per month for 30 minutes of talk.

Medium package: $16 per month for 60 minutes of talk.

“Heavy” package: $30 per month for 120 minutes of talk.

There are also reductions on SMS pricings. Peak and off peak prices apply as well.

MTC’s packages are also of similar nature, after all our telecom sector is a monopoly.

The interesting thing to note is that these are packages, not new recharge cards. Meaning, they do not go hand in hand with the current packages we all use: you cannot add your existing credit to them, nor can you add up credit while using them. You cannot also transfer credit to a needy friend. Moreover, if you run out of credit, you cannot recharge your line. You need to wait until your 30 days are up. So seriously, what’s the point? Prices reduction but limiting service? Why couldn’t they simply reduce the price on current packages and not introduce new ones?

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.