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.

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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.