The Lebanese Government Doesn’t Want You To Get iPhones

iPhone 5C and 5S

It wasn’t enough for Lebanon’s iPhone users had to deal with the device not being officially released by Apple in the country yet with exorbitant prices and no customer service for their device. Starting in June, regulations have made getting their device into the country harder than ever.

The iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C were released recently around the world to massive customer reception. Their prices in Lebanon, however, are about $1100 for the 16GB version of the iPhone 5S and $720 for the 16GB version of the 5C. To compare, the 16GB version of the iPhone 5S in the United States is $649 whilst the same version of the 5C retails at $549.

Many Lebanese, like yours truly, refuse to succumb to these black market prices and a government which couldn’t give a rat’s ass as long as it’s making enough money for the people running it to remain afloat but still convince everyone that their beloved regulations are in our best interest. Therefore, we buy our devices from abroad and wait for someone to bring them into the country.

Prior to June 2013, that process was as simple as it gets. The phone would come in, we’d unbox it, put it our simcards and we’d be up in running in no time. Today, getting the phone into a state of functionality means getting it registered by a procedure that is retarded but still somehow makes sense for those in governance. Why so? Because they want to take back the millions lost through phone smugglings. How so? By screwing every Lebanese over in the process both bureaucratically and financially.

According to Twitter user Wissam Chidiak, @Fletchergull, the iPhones 5S and 5C don’t get the same treatment that other phones in the market do. Their price tag wasn’t enough, so our government is making it even harder to get an iPhone in Lebanon.

Say you got an iPhone 5S from the United States and wanted to bring it into Lebanon, your passport must not have any other phone registered to it in the past 6 months in order to get the phone working on Lebanese networks. The iPhone 5S or 5C, in order to be registered, take up all 3 phone spots that you are allowed on your passport for a 6 months duration. You won’t be allowed to bring in any other phone to the country if you’ve traveled within that timezone.

Furthermore, the passport being used to get the phone up and running on Lebanese networks must not have entered the country prior to September 24th. The iPhone 5S and 5C were launched on September 20th. Technically, a Lebanese could have had them in the country by the 21st. He wouldn’t have been able to get them registered, however, because that’s what our telecom ministry wants.

Mr. Chidiac has contacted both alfa and Touch, Lebanon’s only telecom operators, who confirmed on separate occasions that the aforementioned regulations are, indeed, true. They were adamant, however, that those regulations are not operator-based and are entirely enforced by the telecom ministry. Chidiac has also tried to contact minister Sehnaoui on Twitter via direct messages, which the minister couldn’t not have read, public mentions of those direct messages which anyone could read. The minister has failed to reply.

You could say that these regulations are in place given that the devices are new and all. But even that argument runs moot with our government because other newer devices do not suffer from the same treatment. Samsung’s Note 3, which was released on September 25th – 5 days after the new iPhones, can be registered with passports that have entered the country prior to the phone’s release. It also takes up only one phone slot out of the three you are allowed. Perhaps our telecom ministry wants to gradually but surely enforce one brand upon the Lebanese population simply due to availability and ease of access?

Our telecom ministry is proud of the advancements that have taken place recently, as is their right, despite some of those achievements having a big “however” plastered all across them – the 4G network comes to mind. At the rate we’re going however, I’m longing for the day when I was able to simply pop in a sim, get it to work then remove it and have my phone “liberated” as is, when my  freedom as a customer to buy whatever I wanted from wherever I wanted, within Lebanese law, was still cherished and not subject to demented, silly and retarded regulations that only serve to inflate the pockets of those benefiting from them. Those regulations, Mr. Sehnaoui, not the 4G network, will be your legacy when you’re a minister of telecom no more.

Advertisements

Internet Freedom Keeps Deteriorating; Lebanon is Partially Free

A recent study on worldwide internet freedom has revealed that the trend of the past two years hasn’t reversed in 2013: internet freedom is deteriorating across the world, fueled substantially this year by the NSA revelations coming out of the United States, whose score has toppled substantially compared with 2012.

In order to identify the major trends of this continuing deterioration, the study in question (link) evaluated ten aspects regarding internet freedom in each of the countries studied. These ten aspects were:

  1. Blocking and filtering: governments blocking what they find undesirable,
  2. Cyberattacks against regime critics,
  3. New laws regarding online speech,
  4. Paid governmental interference in online presence,
  5. Physical attacks,
  6. Surveillance,
  7. Takedown requests,
  8. Blocking of social media platforms,
  9. Holding ISPs, hosting servies, webmasters, etc… liable,
  10. Interfering with internet and mobile services.

As such, the following major trends emerged:

  1. Increase in surveillance as countries upgrade their monitoring technology,
  2. Increase in censorship as countries pass new laws to limit the extent of free speech,
  3. Increase in arrests due to social media postings, including bloggers.

These trends aren’t only happening in authoritarian countries. Some countries have further restricted access to content they deemed harmful: porn, piracy, etc.

The study included 60 countries across the world and gave a freedom score for each country. The ratings for each country were obtained through three main categories:

  • Obstacles to access: infrastructure, governmental blocks, economic policies, etc.
  • Limit on content: through filtering, website blocking, service throttling, etc.
  • Violation of user rights: arrests, intimidation, surveillance, etc.

As such, countries can be classes in three different brackets. The countries deemed “free” obtained a score between 0 and 30. Those deemed partially free scored between 31 and 60. The countries categorized as not free had a score between 61 and 100. The world’s freest country is Iceland while Iran is the world’s least free country.

Lebanon’s score is 45, which means we’re only partially free. We don’t even come first regionally. The countries we trail are Morocco and Tunisia. We are also tied with Libya as this graph shows:

Internet Freedom Middle East, North Africa

Lebanon’s grade was split in the following manner:

Lebanon Internet Freedom - Merged

The facets in which Lebanon lacked were the following:

Lebanon Internet Freedom - 1

I daresay our ranking is pretty much expected. Some social media users were arrested for badmouthing the president, regardless of whether such an arrest was warranted or not. Some bloggers were called in for questioning over blogposts in which they criticized a shabby award show. Other bloggers were sued by TV hosts for libel while those TV hosts did nothing but commit libel left and right all the time. In fact, if a survey is to be held amongst Lebanese bloggers and social media users, their personal security would rank as their main concern. Such a security is not only physical, but it’s also legal: we simply don’t have the means to defend ourselves against those in power who don’t revert to laws, which aren’t even put to effect. Is it truly freedom when you feel that you have to rephrase what you have to say every time in a way to avoid ruffling the feathers of those who can make your life a living hell through their limited mindedness?

The country is also experiencing a drastically increasing censorship. It was only a couple of days ago that our General Security stopped two movies from airing at Beirut’s Film Festival (link). While such censorship isn’t assessed in this study, as it currently stands the study lists Lebanon’s limit of content as minimal at best. But judging by how things are currently heading, this is definitely heading to increase soon.

Lebanon is currently experiencing an increase in the rate of penetration of internet services among its population, so we have a choice in front of us. We can either become like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain: technically proficient but extremely restricted. Or we can aim to become like the world’s countries which have advanced technologies and liberties to boot. I really hope we choose the latter but I’m not getting my hopes up.

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.

 

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.

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?

Samsung Shamelessly Ripping Off Apple – Again

Despite being sued by Apple almost everywhere and them resisting, Samsung have apparently not learned from their lawyers who couldn’t differentiate between an iPad and a Galaxy Tab.
This time, for their MP3 player, they didn’t just copy the iPod Touch’s design, they also copied the ad that introduced the iTouch, even the folding of earphones around the iPod.

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. So here you go:

20111107-225655.jpg

Now Samsung needs to get their engineers & designers to put their their thinking caps on because this is getting ridiculous. While I will never dignify them by buying a product of theirs, they either need to acknowledge the fact that are uninspired and, therefore, stop churning out Galaxy products faster than rabbits breeding or they need to get a grip with their counter-lawsuits.