Category Archives: Technology

IMAX Finally Coming To Lebanon

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IMAX-screens-get-smaller_ via digitaltrends

Three IMAX theatres will be added to VOX locations in the MENA region, including one in Beirut, marking IMAX’s entry into that country. VOX Cinemas are expected to get IMAX by end of this year based on what I’ve been told, but the date hasn’t been confirmed yet. I’ve been to an IMAX theater once and it’s quite an amazing experience. The technology and architecture makes you forget you’re in a theater and makes the movie so freaking real!

I will keep you posted if there are any updates but this is very exciting news for myself and all movie-goers in Lebanon.

IMAX Corporation (NYSE: IMAX) and VOX Cinemas, a leading exhibitor in the Middle East, today announced an agreement for three IMAX® theatres to be added to VOX locations throughout the region. IMAX theatres will be added to existing complexes in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and in Beirut, Lebanon, marking IMAX’s entry into that country. In addition, IMAX’s next-generation digital laser projection system will be launched as part of a completely new development of their flagship VOX Cinema, located within the landmark Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, UAE.

“Moviegoers in the Middle East want only the best cinema technology and movie watching experiences when visiting our cinemas and IMAX is a brand that is regarded as the best among our guests in the region,” said Cameron Mitchell, CEO of VOX Cinemas. “Our commitment to delivering a customer-focused cinema experience is a perfect fit with IMAX’s cutting-edge technology and blockbuster film slate. As we continue to expand our circuit throughout the Middle East, IMAX will serve as an anchor attraction that we are confident will be embraced by our guests. [Source] “

Review + Giveaway: Sony QX10 Lens-Camera A Great Smartphone Companion

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The black plastic cylinder shown above is not just a lens but a camera that features a 18.2 million pixel 1/2.3 inch sensor and a 10x optical zoom. The Sony QX10 doesn’t have a screen, mounts directly on your smartphone and is paired to Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app through WiFi. This pocket-friendly compact camera is meant to complement just about any smartphone and enables users to take high quality and more versatile photos and instantly share them on Facebook or Instagram.

I’ve been using the QX10 for 3 weeks now and I’m quite impressed by the ease of use, the image quality and the performance of the camera as a whole. The setup is quite easy, the camera options are simple and straight to the point yet the most appealing thing is the size and weight (around 100g) of the QX10 and the ability to place it anywhere you like and control it remotely. It’s something that you can really have fun experimenting with at gatherings, outdoor events, parties, street photography and I’m giving away one to one lucky reader :)

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I prepared a brief review of the QX10 to help you understand how to set it up, how it works, how good is the image quality and other useful information. Enjoy it and make sure to check the competition details at the end of the post:

Ease of Use, Performance & Battery Life:
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The QX10 is very easy to set up and start using. You will find in the box the lens camera, a detachable smartphone mount with an extending arm, a wrist strap, a battery pack and a micro-USB cable for charging and transferring images. You will only need to buy a microSD card but you can already start using the camera without it. The QX10 has three main controls, the power (on/off) button, a zoom and a shutter button. There’s also a small screen that shows you the battery life. I tried the small smartphone mount with an iPhone 5 and iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6, Galaxy Samsung Note 4 and LG G3 and it fit them all perfectly. Personally speaking, the ability to shoot without the lens attached to the smartphone is the QX10’s biggest advantage. You can hold it overhead, place it almost anywhere you like and take unique pictures. Moreover, and since the camera has a flat bottom surface (bottom also includes tripod socket), you can easily rest it for long exposures or videos.

Whether you wish to mount the lens on your smartphone or use it remotely, you will need to download the Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app to connect through WiFi to the camera. The application is also straightforward and gives you the option to automatically store pictures on your smartphone, which is very practical if you want to upload them right away on Instagram for example.

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In order to connect the camera to the app, you will need to turn the lens on, open the application from your smartphone and then wait around 5-6 seconds for the connection to be made between the two devices. If you don’t want to wait that long and wish to snap instant photos at a race or event, then you can always leave both devices on all the time but this will quickly drain the battery life of both the camera and the smartphone.

In terms of battery life, I’ve only recharged the camera 3 times in the past 3 weeks but I haven’t been using it heavily. From what I read, you can take up to 200 images before battery dies out, which is more than enough even for a full-day shoot. What you should worry about though is your smartphone’s battery as using the display for long hours will drain the battery even if you’re not using your smartphone’s camera, so keep a battery pack with you just in case.

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Fiber Optics Finally Coming To Lebanon In 6 Months, Full LTE 4G Coverage Expected In 2 Years

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fiber optiocs

After years of false promises, it looks like we are finally getting fiber optics in Lebanon. That’s what Minister Harb announced today in a joint-press conference with Ogero CEO Abdul Moneim Youssef. I’ve been following up on this issue for quite some time and I even managed to meet with Minister Harb recently and with some people who are working closely on the project, and it looks like it’s the real deal this time. In fact, my friend who has been involved since Day1 told me he’s moving out of Lebanon if this project doesn’t come true so let’s hope it does work!

Before getting into details, the first question that comes to mind is who will be financing this project and will it stop once we get a new Telecom Minister? The cost of the project is in the hundreds of millions of dollars but the good part is that it will be auto-financed by the Telecom Ministry’s revenues which are set to increase year after year with the implementation of every phase. Moreover, the municipalities and all stakeholders will be encouraged to implement this project on time as they are getting more money out it. For example, 10% of the Telecom Ministry’s revenues are distributed to municipalities. More importantly, Ogero is committed to this 5-year plan so the administrative delays are no longer there.

FTTX

Moving on to the juicy stuff, here’s what happening in the next 5 years in Lebanon:
1- Lebanon will be fully connected through fiber optics.
2- DSL Services will be upgraded to VDSL2+ with 40Mbit/s .
3- DSL will be introduced to areas with no internet and exiting copper networks will be replaced by better ones temporarily.
4- 4G/LTE network will cover all of Lebanon within 2 years.
5- Launching the Internet support hotline 1516

Fiber Optics all over Lebanon!
FTTX1

The fiber optic infrastructure is already there and most if not all internet stations in Lebanon are interconnected by fiber optics but the real challenge is in connecting these stations to organizations, businesses and households of course. This will be done in four different phases:

– 2015-2017: FTTO Organizations SME/SM
This phase will last 18 months between material request delivery, network design, implementation of work orders, testing of cables and putting customer in services. Organizations and Companies should start benefiting from fiber optics after 6 months.

– 2015-2020: FTTC (+VDSL) cabinets (& Houses)
Internet stations will be connected to the cabinets in this phase and current DSL connections will be upgraded to +VDSL. DSL will also be made available to areas without coverage.

– 2016-2020: FTTH1 (Houses)
– 2019-2022: FTTH2 (Houses)

In the last two phases, fiber optics will gradually become available in households and for end users. Just to give you an idea about the speeds that we will start getting at home hopefully, we’re talking about an upgrade from the current 1 MBPS (up to 20 MBPS but no one is getting this speed) to 25-50 MBPS and up to 100 MBPS on VDSL2 before we move to fiber optics and gets speeds between 100 and 1000 MBPS!

4G/LTE Coverage all over Lebanon
lte after 18 months

Only 7% of mobile users in Lebanon are enjoying 4G/LTE connections and Alfa and Touch’s coverage is still limited. Moreover, 3G coverage is still poor in several areas. Given that the infrastructure is already there, both companies will commit throughout the next 18 months to install new sites and expand their coverage to all Lebanese territories.

Alfa is expected to install over 600 new sites in the next 18 months and cover 75.5% of the Lebanese territory and provide the 4G/LTE service to 95.2% of populated areas. Similarly, Touch will install over 1000 sites to cover all of Lebanon. The expansion plan will also include an upgrade of all hardware and software to meet the increasing demand and network usage.

lte after 2 years

Launching the Internet support hotline 1516
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With the ever increasing number of internet users in Lebanon, the Telecom Ministry is introducing a new hotline (1516) that will consist of a dedicated team (a sort of emergency unit) aimed at helping customers with internet issues. I will be calling them this week to see how efficient they are. Just to give you an idea of the internet situation in Lebanon, there are 3,638,051 internet users in Lebanon, out of which 2,505,875 mobile internet users. The internet penetration is 86% which puts Lebanon in 4th position regionally after Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.

regional internet

All in all, I believe we all agree that we need to catch up with the rest of the world and that mobile internet is the only thing keeping us connected. This project is desperately needed to put Lebanon back on track and maybe turn it into a regional tech hub. We have the talents, we have the infrastructure and now there’s a will from our officials and Ogero (I’m still finding it hard to believe) to make this happen so let’s hope for the best. Needless to say, enhancing the internet connectivity has to be accompanied by a drop in prices and a considerable increase in the quotas, but I’m sure this will come as soon as the concerned parties start thinking out of the box and realize that they will make more money and improve the economy by making the internet cheaper and more abundant.

Lebanon’s Youngest Entrepreneur Jihad Kawas Is Among 2015 Thiel Fellows, Will Receive $100,000 To Drop Out Of College & Start A Company

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ceo I want that shirt – Picture from TEDxBeirut

Few days ago, the Thiel Foundation announced its next class of 20 fast-tracked college dropouts to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, and Lebanese Jihad Kawas is one of them. Kawas will be receiving $100,000 but more importantly a wealth of mentorship during the two-year program provided he drops out of college during this period. Jihad, who’s only 17, is the founder of Saily, a new and evolving startup that consists of an online marketplace aiming to make selling goods as quick and easy as possible for the public. Kawas attended the Worldwide Developer’s Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco where he took a selfie with Apple’s CEO Tim Cook who gave him the thumbs up for his idea with the advice “to just keep working on it.

What is the Thiel Foundation and why is this a big deal?

The Thiel Fellowship was created by Peter Thiel, who’s an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist. He co-founded PayPayl and was the first outside investor in Facebook. He’s also the “president of Clarium Capital, a global macro hedge fund with $700 million in assets under management; a managing partner in Founders Fund, a venture capital fund with $2 billion in assets under management”. Thiel has a net worth of US$2.2 billion as of Jan.2015 and is ranked 12th on the Forbes Midas list.

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What’s Stopping Beirut From Becoming A Tech Hub For The Middle East?

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FIBER-OPTICS via Executive-Magazine

Mike Butcher (Techcrunch) believes that “Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East”, and that “Lebanon is uniquely posed to generate startups which aim both at the Arab world and the wider world at large”. Of course these are not just talks as Lebanon has everything from tech campuses, talented software engineers, successful entrepreneurs, a growing number of investors and accelerators, award-winning startups and more importantly a $400 million investment by Lebanon’s Central Bank through Circular No. 331.

So why isn’t Lebanon a tech hub yet?
Lebanon has everything except one tiny yet crucial thing, which is a fast and abundant internet. Butcher pointed out that the current average internet speed in Lebanon is 3.11 Mbps (vs 27.9 Mbps in the UAE) but it’s not really the case as the speeds outside Beirut are much lower and barely reach 1Mbps in some areas. Moreover, the changes that MP Harb introduced last year required an increase in bandwidth by Ogero which never took place and therefore forced some ISPs to charge the unlimited night traffic. The only fast and reliable connections nowadays are the 3G and 4G mobile data plans but they are relatively expensive if you need a plan bigger than 10GB.

Who’s to blame for the internet?
This issue has been dragging for quite some time, and is the result of the endless political bickering between the Telecom Ministry and Ogero. We thought that things would improve now that both the minister and Ogero are on the same political side, but things actually got worse somehow. It could be due to the lack of coordination between the two parties or/and the lack of expertise of Minister Harb in Telecom given that he’s a lawyer. Funnily enough, if we look back at previous strategies of implementing changes without coordinating with the other party, some of them actually worked out and forced others parties to adapt after a while (while end users suffered) so this “crisis” we are in might actually lead to something better in the near future but no one knows when. In fact, the sad part is that we can’t get any of the two parties to explain what’s happening and the proof is the latest Executive Magazine interview with Ogero’s head Abdel Moneim Youssef. Here are 3 small paragraphs that sum up the whole interview and leaves all our questions in regards to the internet and the future of fiber optics unanswered:

When asked why the new fiber optic network contracted in 2011 — which now connects the bulk of the central offices in Lebanon as well as many of the country’s heavy users such as universities and hospitals — has not been turned on, Youssef immediately retorted on the semantics, not the substance, of our question. ‘Heavy users’ is a meaningless term, he shot back, embarking on a diatribe arguing that the term was “not even a word.” If you look up ‘heavy users’ on Google, he said, it would yield no results. He went further to say that ‘heavy users’ was only a term used by people in Lebanon, to describe a concept that does not exist in the rest of the world’s parlance.

To close the discussion, he invited Executive to call up all of our sources and tell them they were wrong. “They are completely ignorant,” he said. Every source we had cited in our interview — the advisers to the Ministry of Telecommunications, the consultants, the internet services providers — were implied. All of them.

After we dismissed some ideas implied by our interviewee — such as buying shovels and digging trenches to check for the presence of cables, or calling respected experts to insult them — the net gain of 40 minutes’ exposure to Youssef’s mastery in haranguing was thin. What we learned was that the questions we were asking, for some reason, were questions that Youssef did not want to answer.

What’s next?
As Butcher stated, the building blocks are all there to transform Beirut into a tech hub for the MENA region, but we need decent internet for that to happen and I still find it hard to believe that Ogero or the Telecom Ministry don’t want this to happen. They have everything to win by enhancing the internet speeds and everything to lose by not doing so. In all cases, I hope we get some answers in the weeks or months to come but until then, Dubai is becoming a vibrant startup hub for the Middle East and that’s where all Lebanese entrepreneurs are or will be going.

Cellular Lines Starting 81 Will Soon Be Available In Lebanon

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Telecom Minister Boutros Harb announced that he’s adding one million mobile lines (range starting 81) in order to meet the country’s growing demands for the next 25 years. The minister also asked “both mobile operators to grant those defaulting on their subscription fees a three-month ultimatum before deactivating their lines.”

Harb

I had asked Minister Harb to reconsider as well the extra consumption rates in Lebanon as they are unacceptable and he replied that he’ll take it into consideration, so let’s hope we will see a change some time soon. As far as DSL is concerned and the fate of fiber optics in Lebanon, Executive Magazine interviewed Abdel Menhem Youssef for 40 minutes but I couldn’t conclude anything from the interview.

Thanks Hadi!

Unlimited Night Traffic No Longer Free For IDM And Cyberia Internet Users

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unlimited

Cyberia and IDM are changing their unlimited night internet policy and turning it into a paid service starting May 2015. The aim of this new policy is to limit the abuse of a small number of users during peak hours and try to improve the internet speed for everyone else. IDM & Cyberia users will now have to pay an additional $3 or $6 to enable the unlimited night feature.

Of course this is not the ideal solution as internet is supposed to get cheaper and become more abundant, but the problem is the lack of the bandwidth and the never-ending feud between the government and Ogero. If we believe what Executive Magazine reported last week, “the country has a new, multi million dollar fiber optic network that forms a backbone for data traffic. It is laying idle, however, because a few switches needed to pass information have not been flipped”. So basically there is a way to fix the internet problem in Lebanon but some people don’t want to.

Going back to the Unlimited Night feature, Ogero had already removed it last year and replaced it with an unlimited option. I’m not sure how things are going for Ogero users after midnight but I don’t think what Cyberia and IDM did will improve the internet’s speed drastically.

500MB Of Extra Data Consumption Costs As Much As A 10GB 3G/4G Plan In Lebanon

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Screenshot_2015-04-03-20-19-59

A year ago, I was still subscribed to the 1.5GB 3G mobile data plan but I was exceeding it by some 300-400MB a month. After Minister Boutros Harb approved the new 3G/4G rates my account got upgraded to 5GB but it still wasn’t enough for me as I had moved to a new place and I didn’t have WIFI so I ended up upgrading it to the 10GB plan which costs $49 monthly. Moreover, my last two smartphones were 4G enabled which means more consumption and I wasn’t willing to drop my speed to 3G anymore as 4G is super quick.

In all cases, I can’t really complain about the 3G/4G speeds as the coverage and the speed are perfect but my problem is with the extra consumption rates which are still unacceptable and ridiculously high. If we take what I’m currently paying for, it’s $49 for 10GB yet 1 extra MB costs 0.07$ which means that 100MB of extra consumption costs $7.

So the 10GB normal plan costs as much as 700MB of extra consumption which is quite ridiculous to be honest. I made sure to check with my Dubai friends to see if the extra MBs cost a lot and they are also expensive there but not as much as in Lebanon. I think the common sense would be to charge 0.07$ for every 10MB not 1MB and allow users to add MBs in the same month for a set rate. For example if I have 5 days left I will be able to add 1GB for $10 or $15 instead of paying almost $100 for it.

I think someone needs to raise this matter to the Telecom Minister Boutros Harb and ask him to change these ridiculous rates ASAP.

PS: Let’s not talk about data roaming rates which are out of this world.

3layye wou 3leik: A Platform To Help Implement The New Traffic Law, Stop Wasta & Fix Roads

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During one of the Arabnet panels last week, we had the chance to engage with the people behind the ISF and TMC twitter accounts and most of the tweets that I saw seemed to agree that both accounts are doing a great job online but the story is different on the ground. Everyone is interacting online with the ISF and TMC and sharing pictures of drivers breaking the law, but nothing is really changing offline. Of course there are hopes that the new traffic law would help make things better but a lot of Lebanese are skeptical about it and whether it will be properly implemented or not.

This being said, I had a cool idea few days ago that might help implement this new traffic law as well as fix our roads, while making sure there are no corrupt policemen or citizens trying to abuse the new law. If we look back at previous attempts to enforce traffic law, they all failed because of 4 key issues:

– People don’t trust the cops and the authorities.
– Attempts to enforce traffic laws were usually applied in few regions only.
– Corrupt policemen and drivers were abusing the law to skip the fines.
– The infrastructure and the roads are getting worse.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that there are a lot of decent and competent individuals in the ISF and TMC capable of implementing the law fully, gaining people’s trust and working on enhancing the roads, but in order for that to happen, you need an automated system that is monitored by a small group and that allows engagement between the related parties and the people. What I’m talking about is an app or platform that I randomly called “3layye wou 3leik” and that works that way:

Who will use this platform?

The app will be accessible to 3 types of users:
The Lebanese Driver, who will be able to see his fines and pay them, as well as report violations* (will elaborate on this point next). Drivers will register using their license plate number and their mobile number which are unique.
The Police Officer, who will report violations he sees and fine cars based on a car plate number.
The Traffic Management Center, who will be in charge of validating and approving the fines and violations reported.

How will it work?
The hardest part is coming up with this software and the rest is pretty simple. All officers will be given special devices where they will only be able to write down fines and send them directly to the application where they will stored under a certain driver’s plate number. The officer will have to back his violation with pictures and a video (at a first stage) that will be investigated then approved or declined by the Traffic Management Officer. Once approved, the driver will have to settle the amount online and further sanctions will apply if he’s late or refuses to pay.

Now here’s the interesting part. Drivers will also be able to report violations that they see and document them as well, that way if a police officer is breaking the law, he will also be reported and investigated by the Traffic Management Center. If the violation is validated and approved, then there are three ways to proceed here:

– If the driver has pending fines, he will be able to take out 1 or more, depending on the type of violation he reported.
– If the driver has no fines, then the officer will have to pay the fine.
– If the driver has pending fines yet wants the officer to pay, then he will also have that option.

Aside from violations committed by police officers or army men or politicians, drivers will be able to report violations committed by the municipalities and ministers such as leaving manholes open, not fixing potholes, parking in the wrong places etc. When such issues are reported, the municipality and ministries will have to comply within a set period before they get sanctioned.

This is just a brief description and there are more details to be shared (maybe later), but the idea is that municipalities, police officers and drivers will encourage each other to respect the law in order to escape the fines and there will be a competent and trust-worthy panel to monitor what’s happening and do the right thing. Things may be tricky at first due to the lack of evidence, which is why I recommend setting up cameras at a later stage to eliminate any human intervention and assist the Traffic Management Center. Moreover, traffic judges will have the final say in case any of the app users (driver or cop) wants to appeal a traffic violation.

How will people pay their fines?
This is the easiest part. Since all payments are done online, drivers will be able to track down their fines and points automatically, unlike what’s happening now where we need to waste a whole day just to pay a speeding ticket. As for police officers, army men, politicians, officials, municipality members and ministries, fines will be deducted from their salaries if they refuse to pay and invested in fixing and enhancing roads.

All in all, what I’m proposing is a pragmatic approach to this whole mess we are in, and even though the solution is not an ideal one and needs further brainstorming, I think it would be a great starting point and an effective way to try and implement this new traffic law once and for all. Let me know what you guys think and whether I missed out on some key points or it’s a decent idea.

Will We Ever See 5G In Lebanon?

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It’s quite depressing to see countries planning to launch 5G services in the next 3-4 years while we are still struggling with our 4G speed and data plans and of course the lousy DSL. I was lucky enough to access Ericsson’s huge booth at the MWC2015 thanks to a friend and got to see what a 5G connection looks like. We are talking about a speed hundreds of times faster than the 4G, reaching over 5000 mbits/s. Samsung has been doing some 5G tests as well and it looks like South Korea might be the first countries to adopt it.

Technology has a huge impact on every country’s development and needs to be handled more seriously in Lebanon. The technological gap between Lebanon and the UAE has already become a huge one and it will take many years to catch up. Of course I am not talking about implementing 5G but at least enhancing and expanding our 4G network and completing the switch to fiber optics ASAP.

20150302_155150 This is a mobile by the way