Category Archives: Technology

Lebanon Improving In The Networked Readiness Index

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leb_nri2016

The Global Information Technology Report (GITR) is prepared by the World Economic Forum, INSEAD and Cornell University and examines “the increasing proliferation of technology and its effects on advancing global prosperity”. Digital innovation is reshaping economies worldwide and pressuring states and tech and non-tech sectors to adapt to the speed and scale of changes while mitigating ethical, legal, and regulatory risks.

As far as Lebanon is concerned, it still ranks among the worst Arab countries in terms of Networked Readiness but was the second biggest mover this year, gaining 11 ranks to land in 88th place in the overall NRI. The NRI currently assesses the state of networked readiness using 53 individual indicators. For each of the 139 economies covered, it allows the identification of areas of priority to more fully leverage ICTs for socioeconomic development.

Here’s what the report said:

Importantly, the country is registering substantial positive moves in all four subindexes. In terms of adoption, Lebanon is doing best in individual usage (46th), followed by business usage (97th) and government usage (124th). Most indicators of personal usage have been improving over the past year, with the business sector catching up in its use and adoption of digital technologies; with overall perceived progress in business adoption being slow around the world, this is a positive exception to the trend. Starting from a low level, government indicators are also moving in the right direction: in particular, the regulatory environment is improving in terms of judicial independence, the efficiency of the legal system, and the effectiveness of law-making bodies. Substantial
improvements are registered for the impact of ICTs on business models, organizational models, basic services, and government efficiency. Building also on a solid basis in terms of education, skills, and knowledge-intensive jobs, Lebanon has many of the factors in place to continue on this positive trajectory.

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This is encouraging news of course but we are still very far behind and the technological gap between Lebanon and Gulf countries is already substantial.

You can check out the full report [here]. Lebanon’s profile is on page 142. If you look at the indexes, almost everything government-related is ranked among the worst worldwide

Thank you Rami!

Updates on MOT’s 2020 Strategy: 4G/LTE on Track, DSL is Bad

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One year ago, I shared a lengthy post on the Telecom Ministry’s 2020 plan and mentioned that fiber optics are expected to be deployed within 5 years while 4G/LTE coverage was expected to all over Lebanon.

Fiber Optics:

Both the Telecom Ministry and Ogero were committed to implementing this plan but the illegal internet case that was raised almost 4 months ago turned things upside down. Three of Ogero’s top officials, including Abdel-Monhem Youssef were indicted over “negligence that led to the squandering of public funds and evading taxes by allowing some people to set up unlicensed internet in the country.”

The illegal internet companies operating had a bandwidth equivalent to 1/3 of the bandwidth set by the Telecom ministry and as soon as they were cut off, DSL speeds which were already average became worse and there were several outages during the first few weeks but then things went back to normal, and by normal I mean relatively decent internet speeds inside Beirut and lousy ones (barely 1.5MB) in most of the areas outside Beirut. I was told that Ogero opened up the bandwidth several times ever since Youssef disappeared and to cover for the illegal networks that were shut down but I can’t confirm that.

So in terms of fiber optics, I highly doubt that it will happen by 2020 but the least that should be done is upgrading internet stations from the current DSL connections to +VDSL.

4G/LTE Coverage all over Lebanon

This part of the MOT 2020 plan is still on track fortunately. 4G+ was announced back in March by Alfa and Touch and the first phase of 4G+ deployment was organized few days ago by both telecom operators in the presence of Telecom Minister Boutros Harb.

During Alfa’s event, they did a stunt with Lebanese champion Abdo Feghali who joined the press conference towards the end and went on a live drifting session to demonstrate Alfa’s 4.5G LTE-A network speed. Check out the last 5 minutes it’s pretty cool.

Launching the Internet support hotline 1516

The Telecom Ministry introduced a new hotline (1516) that consists of a dedicated team (a sort of emergency unit) aimed at helping customers with internet issues. I’ve tried it a couple of times and it’s practically Ogero’s customer helpline and as you probably know by now, my experience so far with their support has been a really disappointing one.

Overall Verdict:

The only reason I trusted this plan might work is that Ogero was committed to it, but I’ve been repeating it for years that having a state-owned (privately-managed) entity controlling the Telecom sector is a recipe for disaster and that’s why we are here now. I had hopes that we’d get this plan implemented and then go back to the political bickering between all parties but the illegal internet scandal was so big Ogero’s head flew for a whole month if not more to Paris, presumably for “medical purposes”.

In regards to the Telecom Ministry, blaming them solely for not knowing about the illegal internet stations and failing to implement the fiber optics is unfair but I believe Minister Harb should have communicated better what’s happening with the online community and responded to major complaints like the cost of additional MB consumption on 3G plans and the lousy DSL connections in remote areas.

All in all, our 3G/4G speeds are good enough but quotas and prices need to be improved while DSL speeds are still lousy and we are in desperate need of an upgrade VERY soon! I’ve said that back in March and repeat it: “we will have over 3 million internet users in Lebanon by 2017, Lebanon has the 4th highest internet penetration in the region and we still cannot get a proper 2MB DSL connection outside Beirut, and sometimes even in Beirut. This is embarrassing and unacceptable.”

My Ogero DSL Internet Stopped Working Two Weeks Ago

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ogero11 Photo Credits: Executive Magazine

Two weeks ago, my home internet stopped working, the internet button on the Ogero DSL modem turned red, I tried restarting the modem, turning it off and on, I checked all the cables, everything was fine, the phone line was still working but the damn button wasn’t turning green anymore.

I called Ogero the second day to submit a complaint and they sent a technician two days later to check what the problem was. Needless to say, you have to on standby all day waiting for the technician because they don’t specify a date and time for their visit, they just call you anytime they want from a number all Ogero technicians use (you can’t call back it’s almost always busy) and tell you they are on their way.

First Visit:
The Ogero technician called me around 10 AM on a Wednesday if I’m not mistaken, I wasn’t home so I asked him to wait for a second to see if my brother can meet him. I tried calling back for 15-20 minutes the line was busy and by the time I reached him he had left so I asked him to come back the next day.

Second Visit:
I made sure there’s someone at home the second day and the guy showed up around the same time. He went up checked the Ogero modem then went down to check the cables, the one coming from the pole to the phone cabinet inside the building and from that cabinet to the house. He told me that the box is fine and that the problem was with the cable from the building’s phone cabinet to the house and that I need to call “Ogero Cables” to come fix it.

Third Visit:
I called Ogero again and asked for the Ogero Cables unit. They sent another team to check the problem and again I had to keep someone on standby all day. After checking the cable, they told me that they can’t fix it and that I need an electrician. I answered back that I was told you guys can fix it, they said no get an electrician to replace the cable.

Weird Call from Ogero Jounieh:
The day after, I got a weird call from Ogero Jounieh asking me about what’s happening but the line was bad and the guy hung up. I tried calling back but I got a fax number instead.

I fixed the cable and the modem still wouldn’t work:
A week after Ogero’s failed attempts to fix the problem, I called an electrician and replaced the cable from inside the building to my house with a thicker and better one. Surprise Surprise the modem still didn’t work.

At this point I thought the problem was with the modem, so I got a new one and it worked briefly but then it stopped again. That’s where I called my electrician again and we tested the modem on the line coming from the electric pole directly to the building but it didn’t work as well. It was clear at this point that the issue with the external cable not the one inside the building.

What am I supposed to do now?

I’ve been using my 4G at home for two weeks ago, I am almost sure that the problem is with the Ogero box and the external cable and that they got it all wrong. What I will do is replace the external cable, the one from the Ogero box to the building and ask them to come plug it since I am not allowed to.

What is pissing me off the most is that their support is pretty much useless. You call the guy and he submits a complaint and tells you to wait for them, and then you have to waste half your day waiting for that technician to come and do a wrong diagnosis. They are supposed to be replacing the cables and fixing them not us and they should be more flexible with their appointments and understand that there are other people who work during the day.

If getting a new external cable doesn’t work tomorrow, then the problem is even worse. Let’s hope for the best. I will keep you posted and if anyone has a better idea, please do share.

PS: Ogero is not the only one with a lousy home service. Most businesses in Lebanon don’t set a proper date and time and require that you are home before noon for example.

Biometric Passports Expected Soon in Lebanon: Five Things You Need To Know

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leb

Back in 2014, the Lebanese cabinet approved Interior Minister Mashnouq’s proposal to replace the old passports by new biometric ones. Earlier this year, the Lebanese General Security forced all those with a renewed by hand passport to issue new ones and there were false rumors that we might not be able to renew for more than a year because biometric passports are coming.

Since biometric passport should start rolling out very soon, I’ve been trying to collect information on this topic since most people are not familiar with it. Here’s what I have so far:

What does biometric data mean? What’s the technology behind it?

Biometrics refer to unique characteristics to an individual such as fingerprints, facial structure, the iris or a person’s voice. Biometrics are all about replacing “things that you know”, such as passwords and PINs, with “things that you are” and such data cannot be stolen or duplicated.

Biometric technology is the go-to solution for improving digital security and it has evolved from simple fingerprints and facial recognition to behavior IDs that are capable of adapting to a user’s movement and produce “a digital fingerprint to confirm their identity and develop an ongoing authentication without requiring any action from the consumer”.

Why are we switching to Biometric passports?

Passports containing Biometric data cannot be forged or spoofed and will be more secure for their holders and will help the Lebanese authorities reduce fraud and prevent terrorists and criminals from using fake passports.

Why are we doing that now? There are 100+ countries worldwide using bio-metric passports, the U.S. has mandated the use of biometrics for over 10 years now and everyone is headed that way, so the question should be why didn’t we do it before? Let’s not forget that there are probably mandates related to implementing biometrics set by the international aviation organization that we need to comply with.

Will there be a timeline during which certain countries might start rejecting the old passport?

The government will start issuing the new e-passport before end of July. Pilot has already started for all applicants. Lebanese can use the old passports, not the ones renewed by hand though, till their expiry date. There shouldn’t be any acceptance issues but again one cannot be 100% sure. Some embassies might require soon e-passport as pre-requisite for visas.

Who is handling this project?
The company handling it is Inkript, which is a subsidiary of RGH. I don’t have much information about Inkript but that they are listed on ICAO directory as a turnkey biometric travel document solution provider alongside global brands which should be reassuring.

How much will it cost?
I heard that the new passport will have the same fees as the current one.

I will keep you posted as soon as I have additional information.

AUB Goes Eco-Friendly, Launches its First Photovoltaic Power Plant

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photovoltaic

The American University of Beirut has inaugurated yesterday its first photovoltaic power plant to “mitigate the high environmental and economic costs of electricity generation through combustion of diesel”. The solar panel system was installed on the rooftop of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) and will save an estimated $500,000 per year in operating cost, deliver 150 MW of clean energy into the grid and reduce 1,500 tons of CO2 emissions.

The project was completed by three students over a period of eight months and was funded by the European Union’s ENPI CBC Mediterranean Seas Basin MEDSOLAR project (covering 85% of total cost), the FEA, and a local NGO called MONEERA.

Let’s hope this project will be implemented in several areas around Lebanon and in all universities and schools. You can read more about it [here] and/or watch this [LBCI report] by Raneem Bou Khzam.

Earlier last year, ABC Achrafieh installed the largest private photovoltaic plant in Lebanon on ABC’s rooftop. The installation covered up to 4,000 m2 and provides a capacity of 0.45 MW that is enough to power ABC department store, the equivalent of feeding up to 500 houses.

Google Maps Updated For Lebanon

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pedestrian bridge

Google has updated yesterday its mapping application with new, higher-resolution imagery from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite, which means sharper and more detailed photographs for Google Maps & Google Earth. The maps for Lebanon were updated of course and you can clearly see that from the screenshots below. We now have all the streets and alleys even outside Beirut and even pedestrian bridges are showing on the map now as little grey things. The last update took place in 2013.

Enjoy Google Earth imagery as it’s now cloud-free “thanks to mining nearly a petabyte of data. That’s more than 700 trillion pixels, the company notes, or 7,000 times more pixels than the number of estimated stars in the Milky Way, it adds, having fun with the numbers”. [Tech Crunch]

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Thank you Rita el Khoury for the screenshots & John Awad for the story

Beirut Electricity App Featured In #Apple’s WWDC16

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elec

Beirut Electricity, an app that calculates the power outage hours in Beirut was featured in Apple’s New Beginnings video ahead of the WWDC16. This app basically “tracks the rolling three-hour outages and predicts when the power is on days, weeks, months and even years in advance”. The app also works on the Apple Watch.

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Of course it’s pretty cool to be featured in Apple’s promo but I wish it could have been for something more useful than tracking down electricity outages, but that’s the sad reality we are living in. We have so many talents and so much potential here but there’s no infrastructure (internet, electricity, tech hubs) to support them.

Start watching at Minute 0:38

[YouTube]

5 Cool Things From Apple’s WWDC16

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WWDC16

Apple announced a series of new features and updates across its 4 platforms: MacOS, iOS, WatchOS and TVOS. Here are the 5 things that I liked best:

1- Swift Playground
Apple introduced Swift Playground, a free iPad app that teaches kids how to code. It is fun and intuitive using game like lessons to make learning code seem easy.

WW Swift

2- Calls, Messages and Emojis
You can now receive voice and video calls from third party apps (i.e Whatsapp) to the home screen just like traditional calls. iMessage got a major makeover with integration support for third party apps, services and lots of interactive features as well as fun and predictive emojis.

3- Apple Watch SOS Button and Medical ID Bracelet
You can now long press the side button of your watch to initiate an SOS call anywhere in the world, without even knowing the local emergency number. The watch will also turn into a medial ID bracelet showing all your emergency medical details.

4- Home App
Home allows you to control all your smart devices in your house via HomeKit. It will let you control the lights, thermostats, open doors, view cams and set scenes, all from one native app.

5- iCloud Drive
A more efficient and productive way to use desktop storage and iCloud. Your desktop files are now backed up and stored in the cloud while being fully accessible across all desktop and mobile devices.

Overall Apple is moving towards a more open system, it is giving the developer community more access and tools to push the limits without compromising on the aesthetics, functionality and more important the privacy of the user. The iOS 10 Developer Preview is already out now, with a public beta available in the summer and the final version coming this September with the new iPhone launch.

The Virtual National Museum of Modern Art: The First of Its Kind In Lebanon

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vm2

The Ministry of Culture officially launched on Wednesday the Virtual National Museum of Modern Art in Lebanon. This is the first museum of its kind in Lebanon and will feature over 800 artworks including paintings and sculptures from different Lebanese artists.

I was invited to Rome for a couple of days to attend the opening of the Lebanese museum of modern arts last week but it turned out to be a cool stunt by the Ministry to introduce the virtual museum and I got the chance to meet the Minister who explained everything related to that museum, and the gigantic effort that it took to bring this large collection online.

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The virtual museum aims at digitizing the large collection that the Ministry of Culture has, as well as introducing Lebanese here and abroad, and of course art enthusiasts from around the world, to our local talents. You can explore it on [artmodernemv.gov.lb] and there’s an app also available for iOS (iPhone, iPad) & Android users.

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The website is available in four languages (English, Arabic, Spanish & French) and once you click to experience the virtual museum, you will be prompted to enter 4 different “rooms” organized periodically where you will be able to explore the artwork of various Lebanese painters and sculptors. There’s also a section called “Exhibitions” that will showcase artwork by a prominent Lebanese artist every 2-3 months. The first exhibition on display online is for painter Georges Daoud el Korom.

Technically speaking, the website is user-friendly and quite fast. I also tried the Android app and it works perfectly fine. There are few bugs and issues with the website though that I communicated with the concerned people.

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All in all, I loved the initiative as it aims to promote Lebanese modern art to locals and the whole world and will help maintain Lebanon’s arts heritage by digitizing it. Let’s just hope that one day, the Ministry will have enough money to establish a real museum and showcase the 2000+ artistic pieces in its possession.

Here’s a short video to help you experience the virtual museum. (Thank you Wajid from Uf concepts for the editing and the help!)

[YouTube]

PS: If you happen to have an Oculus VR machine, you can enjoy viewing the museum in VR mode.

Note: This post will be sponsored on BlogBaladi’s Facebook page by the Ministry of Culture with my consent of course.

Get Connected to Syrian Mobile Phone Carriers from Within Lebanon

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welcoem

Two years ago, I was driving from Kobayat to Andkit and we ended up somewhere where I got a message welcoming me to Syria and telling me to enjoy roaming with Syria’s operators. I thought that was normal given how close we were to the Syrian borders but apparently this also happens in the Bekaa and a lot of Syrians have figured out ideal spots to get coverage from Syrian mobile phone carriers and make calls to their home country at half the cost of Lebanese tariffs.

Ideal locations for Syrian coverage stretch between Hosh al-Harimeh and Ghazze in the West Bekaa, as well as the areas between the towns of Jdita and Chtaura, as well as the Kroum area in Zahle sometimes.

Needless to say, and given the current circumstances, a lot of Syrians cannot afford getting a Lebanese line to call and check up on their relatives but this is a security compromise as well and the signals should be jammed in my opinion. My friend got the message shown above right before an army checkpoint so this is inadmissible.

The authorities can easily set up special call centers for Syrian refugees to check on their relatives at reduced costs or even for free but this needs to stop. The worst part is that you could be charged for data roaming if you’re spending the whole day there.