#سكر_خطك: Why I’m Closing My Alfa & Touch Lines Today

 

sakker-khattak

Over the past few days, we’ve all seen the above screen-grab in one way or another asking Lebanese citizens to stop using Alfa and Touch’s mobile services on Sunday January 8th, in an attempt to raise awareness and fight the horrifying corruption infesting our telecommunication sector.

Lebanon has one of the highest telecommunication prices in the region and the world. For comparison, the average prepaid monthly recharge in Lebanon is around $25 while it’s around $7 in other Arab countries. The services we get with our recharges are also abysmal: a minute is 25 cents, a text is 5 cents and mobile internet is recharged separately at rates that are exorbitant: $23 for 5GB on Alfa and $29 for 6GB on Touch  with extra-use rates of around 7 cents/MB that run up your bill into the stratosphere. And to think those rates were more expensive….

A lot has been said about the aforementioned campaign, and many are saying there’s no point because, for a lot of Lebanese, they’ve already paid Alfa and Touch by recharging their prepaid line or renewing their internet bundle. But that’s not true, because a one day boycott will cost Alfa and Touch a lot of money.

Food for thought: If those affected by this boycott weren’t worried, they wouldn’t be launching the campaign that they are currently undertaking against it. Also, your personal rights are way more important than any political undertone that has been painted over this campaign.

Please note that with both companies simply enforcing prices set by the government, this boycott affects the government first and foremost. Telecommunication is the second largest revenue source for the government after taxes, which means that reducing that revenue effectively cuts off a major revenue source for the government, which could force it to look into better pricing and services.

In numbers: The 2015 estimated revenues from mobile telecommunication to the Lebanese government were around $1.28 billion, which translates to about $3.5 million daily, encompassing texts and calls as well as internet and other services. That’s a lot of money they’re making for the horrendous services we get. A one day boycott will stop both companies from making approximately that much, without adjusting for further increase in their revenue that they’ve made in 2016.

Those of us whose lines are prepaid will only benefit Touch and Alfa if we use the credit that we already have. Those of us whose lines are postpaid and who decide not to use their phones will directly cost Alfa and Touch money by not providing them with a revenue. If we both put our lines off the grid, those of us who don’t won’t be able to reach us by calling or texting which further degrades the quality of their mobile experience.

With a wide enough boycott, Alfa and Touch will also suffer losses from the fact they have to invest in keeping their networks running without those networks being used: they are supposed to keep their networks at maximum capacity to accommodate the usual influx. With no influx taking place, they will run up the losses.

Perhaps a boycott isn’t the ideal way to bring about the change we want. But the point is not to remain apathetic anymore to the fact we, as a country, are being ripped off without anything to be done about it simply because this is our status quo and we’re forced to deal with it.

Call it slacktivisim, short-sighted, or whatever you feel like. But putting my phone in airplane mode for the day won’t affect me much, but it could get both companies, and therefore our government, to realize that their current rates and policies are unacceptable. Morocco did it when their government banned VoIP. KSA did it when their ISPs raised internet prices. It works.

To put it in perspective, the price of around 250 minutes and 300MB in Lebanon is $84, while the regional average is $32. The price of 500MB and 500 minutes in Lebanon is $136 while the regional average is $57. The price of a 1000minutes and 1000MB bundle in Lebanon is near $270 while the regional average is $111. This is not okay.

As an ending note: if you go France, you can get a phone line from a company called Free for around €20 a month. This includes: unlimited calls inside France to all lines, unlimited calls from France to mobile phones internationally to many countries around the world, Lebanon excluded, unlimited SMS and MMS, unlimited mobile internet, and free wifi when you connect to Free’s Wifi Hotspots on streets. That is all.

Advertisements

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.

    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?

    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.

    MTC Touch Ramadan Offer (Unlimited Calls after Iftar): Big Fail!

    It started with that ridiculous marketing campaign they called “In My New World.”

    I thought it would be about them introducing new services. It turned out about them rebranding. MTC Touch decided to drop the part of their name people use to call the company. They lost the MTC and kept the “Touch” and that made perfect sense to them. I guess we should have taken that as a sign.

    MTC decided to offer its subscribers something cool for Ramadan. They get to choose one number which they would be able to call for free after Iftar, throughout the month of Ramadan.

    The concept of anything unlimited when it comes to phones in Lebanon is so appealing that many MTC customers jumped on the offer the day Ramadan started.

    And behold, a few days later some of them get the following SMS notifying them that they cannot be offered the service because maximum capacity has been reached.

    Thank you Twitter user @JessyBechara for the picture

    Technically, they aren’t lying. Some of my friends who tried the offer reported horrible service: either the network was busy all the time or they got disconnected more than once during the phone call they were attempting to make and ended up giving up on. So for all matters and purposes, maximum capacity was reached.

    However, is that even an acceptable excuse to offer a service so heavily advertised to some users and not for others? Why didn’t they mention it’s a first-come first-served basis which it turned out to be? Even that wouldn’t be acceptable.

    Either offer a service to all your users or don’t offer it at all. If you know for a fact that your infrastructure is beyond horrible,  which I believe MTC Touch knows, then simply don’t flaunt anything unlimited to your customers until you can own up to it and offer it to all customers. Mesh neis bsamne w neis bzeit. 

     

    Didn’t MTC Touch even consider in its plans that people would jump on the offer? If not, then they seriously need new people in charge of all their departments. If they knew their network would be overloaded and they still went with the offer, then that shows exactly how little they care about their customers. Again, not surprising.

    “In My New World,” dear MTC Touch Lebanon, when I’m offered a service, I get it. Maybe you should have used that approach in your campaign?