Category Archives: Technology

Telecom Ministry announces measures to prevent illegally imported devices

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Update: Here’s a [link] to an article from the DailyStar

I just finished reading the latest statement done by the Minister of Telecommunication Nicolas Sehnaoui and based on what I understood:

- New measures will take place as of June 1, 2013 in order to prevent illegally imported devices & protecting the consumer from counterfeits. All imported devices (Smart phones and 3G Enabled tablets and devices) after June 1 2013 will have to be registered now at Alfa or MTC at the airport otherwise they will not work. This means that if you purchased a new phone from abroad, you will have to register it or else you won’t be able to use a Lebanese SIM on it.

- Knowing that the iPhone is not officially distributed in Lebanon, if the government allows few local dealers to sell the iPhone, it will be at least 25% more expensive due to custom fees and VAT. As for other iPhones, if you activated them and used a Lebanese SIM before June 1, 2013 then you will be safe.

- If you wish to sell your phone, u need to release it by sending an empty sms to 1014 then sell it. Also and I am not sure if I got this properly, but if you have two SIMs, you need to release the phone from the first SIM then register it to the second SIM.

I honestly have mixed feelings about these measures as I worry that even though they might stop smuggling and counterfeit products, but it will pave the way for few dealers to control the market and set their own prices. I read that this might be an advertising for phones with contracts as hinted by Alfa during the Arabnet conference but I am not sure about it.

Thanks Amer for the help!

Assessing The Internet Situation in Lebanon

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Picture taken from LebaneseWantFastInternet

I got a call last week from my internet provider (DSL connection) asking me if I was satisfied with my connection at home and their customer service. It went like this:

Operator: Hello, I am calling to see if you’ve had any problems with your internet connection in the past year and if the experience was overall satisfying.

Me: I’ve had few issues at first but I called support and resolved them.

Operator: What sort of issues? Was the connection bad?

Me: At first, the internet would stop working for no reason every few hours. After few days of troubleshooting and doing the tests support asked me to do, it turned out the problem was in the handy phone, even though I had put an isolator from the start. After I replaced the phone, I didn’t encounter any disconnections.

Operator: How about the internet? is it fast or slow?

Me: To be honest, it is barely 1Mbps even though I had requested 4Mbps but as it turns out, my phone line can’t take more than 1Mbps for reasons I could not understand yet. It seems it has something to do with the cable that comes from the “Central” or with the “Central” itself, knowing that I live very close to it.

Operator: This has to do with Ogero I am afraid. You have to check with them. I was only asking if the modem was causing any issues and if you are satisfied with the service.

Me: The modem is fine but I am barely getting 1Mbps so I don’t know if I should be satisfied or not. Anyway thank you for the follow up.

Operator: Thank you sir.

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Lebanon ranked 152nd in download speed – Picture via LebaneseMemes

Taking this short chat into consideration, and given the changes that the Telecom Center has witnessed in the past 3 years, one can easily say that we have a better and cheaper internet connection nowadays (and there are numbers to prove it), but at the same time, we are still far from having a fast and reliable connection, and very far from an abundant internet. In fact and due to the lack of a proper infrastructure, a lot of areas outside Beirut and even few areas surrounding Beirut are unable to exploit connections that are higher than 1Mbps. Similarly, the 3G coverage is still relatively weak. On top of all that, phone calls are disconnecting and the network coverage is not that good specially outside Beirut.

Who is to Blame?

It comes naturally to blame the Telecom Ministry and the Government for the unstable internet but it would be unfair to do so specially with Ogero around. In fact and for the past few years, most of our internet problems have been the result of the political bickering between the Telecom Ministry and Ogero, which is ironically 100% owned by the government and supposedly acts under the supervision of the Minister of Telecommunication. However Ogero Telecom chief Abdel-Moneim Youssef does not share the same political views as the previous three Telecom ministers and as a result, every time there’s a problem, each side puts the blame on the other. Ogero claims that it’s struggling financially and that the Telecom Ministry is withholding money from it and breaking the law on several occasions while the ministry accuses Ogero of a lack of cooperation and even filed a lawsuit against them.

I will not bother go into details as to who’s right or who’s wrong because the mere presence of Ogero for me does not make sense. Having a state-owned (privately-managed) entity controlling the Telecom sector is a recipe for disaster and the past years are a clear proof of that. Regardless of political affiliations, it is illogical to let one company control everything and then expect other privately owned ISPs to compete with it. I am not saying Ogero is bad but this monopoly is an obstacle to a healthy competition and should be halted either through privatization or other means. Last but not least, I think more efforts should have been put by both sides to settle the differences as we’ve wasted precious years and are now way behind technologically.


4G Live Test reaching peak of 100Mbits/s – Picture taken by @NicolaSehanoui

Is launching the 4G a good or bad idea?

When the 3G was launched back in 2011, the pilot phase was excellent but when the service became available to all, it sucked for few months before it became relatively stable. A lot of people, including myself, criticized this premature launch but come to think of it, I think this may be the only way to get things done in Lebanon, or should I say the least worse and most effective way in the climate we live in.

What I am saying is that we’ve waited the DSL service for years before it got implemented in a wrong and illogical way. Similarly, the 3G was not expected, yet was rushed and we suffered for a while but at least now we have both services running even if they are way below our expectations. The number of internet users has increased in Lebanon and the demand for a better internet has become a necessity, after it was a luxury with the prices we had few years back (I used to pay 70$ monthly for 2GB download on a 512Kb connection). Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we should settle for what we have right now but we didn’t have to wait another 10 years for Ogero and the Ministry to get along. 3G and DSL are now a reality and whomever takes over will be pressured to improve them or introduce new services. Added to that, whenever something bad happens, like the outage we had last year, both sides will have to fix things quickly and consequently back then, we got hooked to a new international cable. Remember that this specific ministry brings the government billions of dollars in returns yearly.

This being said, I say we should go for the 4G and hope for more outages or problems that will get things moving more quickly. With the internet penetration already at 56% and on the rise, end-users and businesses will make the Ministry and Ogero’s lives a living hell every time the service stops. After all the internet is not like electricity or water as you only have one source so this monopoly that they’ve created will backfire at them.

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Picture via MayaZankoul

What now?

The internet was down for around 3 hours yesterday due to an electrical problem, and it was disconnecting all the time today and still is. We should expect major improvements in the next few weeks or months but nothing’s confirmed yet. 4G pilot phase is on but I wasn’t able to get my hands on a dongle to try it out and there’s barely any mention of the distributed dongles, so I doubt that its official launch is anytime soon. The data caps are still ridiculously low and were not doubled as promised by the minister.

Speaking of Sehnaoui, I’ve had the chance to meet with him over dinner and he’s a very pleasant person to talk to. I told him and I said it out loud that he’s doing a much better job than other ministers, despite few mistakes and controversies, but that Lebanon becoming a regional digital hub is an idea that is a bit far fetched and that we should put more focus on schools and universities. Chances that he comes back as a Telecom Minister are slim but I am glad that he decided to go through with the 4G as whomever comes after him will have to make it work and not waste years to launch it.

Until then, we as Lebanese should continue to raise the alarm, make use of the ever growing social media and hope that it will make a bigger difference in the upcoming elections. Keep in mind that internet access has become a fundamental human right in some countries and that a free, abundant and fast internet is what we’re after.

Lebanon Internet Download & Upload Speeds in 2013

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Source via LebaneseMemes

Lebanon ranked 152nd out of 182 countries in terms of download speed, which is a negligible improvement from our position at the rock bottom of the list 3 years ago.

Based on millions of recent test results from Speedtest.net, this index compares and ranks consumer download speeds around the globe. The value is the rolling mean throughput in Mbps over the past 30 days where the mean distance between the client and the server is less than 300 miles. [NetIndex.com]

As far as Upload speeds are concerned, we are still very poorly ranked in 175th position (out of 182 also).

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Check out the full list [Here].

Beirut Digital District

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[YouTube]

The Beirut Digital District is a 10-year project that was launched last year. The first building opened is in Bachoura and is 5000m2. Six other buildings will follow and all will be provided with 4G speed and fiber optic internet connections by the Telecom ministry.

Let’s hope the political differences won’t stop the execution of this project. Added to that and like I stated in my submission to the Lebanese Bloggers competition, The Telecom ministry in collaboration with the private sector should fund the creation of internet hubs inside educational establishments (schools, universities) before coming up with districts to the private sector and entrepreneurs.

via Bambi’s Soapbox

DevAppLB PitchFest

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There’s an increasing number of Lebanese coming up with new ideas and mobile apps but most of them lack the proper funding to execute their idea or develop and promote their app. PitchFest is an opportunity for startups to get support to develop and launch their apps using the touch Cloud. [What is Touch Cloud]

I think this is a nice idea to help developers and app startups get support to rapidly develop and have their ideas up and running, plus Touch’s 2 million customers would be a great start to promote your app. Some developers might not be comfortable using a tool set that is controlled by Touch but it could prove very helpful in my opinion.

Here’s some info on how to apply and the prizes offered:

In order to apply for the PitchFest you should already have a basic demo of your app or a solid markup/wireframe, and a basic business plan for your app. Your app should be built using some element of the touch Cloud BaaS (Backend-as-a-Service), or you must be willing to adapt your app during the acceleration period to use some element of touch Cloud, and be geared (at least partially) to serve the Lebanese mobile market. Bonus points for apps that somehow contribute to building a better Lebanon. Full details & apply [Here].

Prizes:
Top 3 Winning teams will EACH get:
- $5000 in cash to develop their app and startup business
- 3 months incubation at AltCity
- Technical support from touch Cloud and Apstrata
- 50% discounts to attend Cisco Entrepreneur Institute workshops
- Free job listings & media visibility/adverts at Bayt.com
- Free media visibility through T3 and Wamda
- Free T3 subscriptions (up to 3 per team)
In addition to all those awesome prizes, the team that ranks FIRST will win a Samsung Smartphone for each team-member! (up to 3)
First and second place winners get WamdaCards.

Deadline for applying to Pitchfest is March 29.
Key Dates:
Mar 29 (Fri): Deadline to apply to Pitchfest
Mar 30-April 5: Pitchfest selection, and light supports for Pitchfest applicants & finalists
Apr 6: Pitchfest! Pitching & Final Selection!
Mid-Apr to mid-July: Acceleration program

There will be other competitions like the DEVAPPLB Hackathon which you can also check [Here].

I honestly believe we need a lot more apps in Lebanon, specially useful ones and not just games and news/gun fires/bombings/accidents reporting apps.

First Look at the 4G Pilot

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SpeedTest performed inside the Touch building on the 4G enabled device

After my post yesterday, I got an email from one of the winners of the 4G dongles who gave me further details on the pilot phase and the testing tools that he received.

Basically you will receive a detailed email from Touch Lebanon asking you to come to Beirut Touch Service Center and receive 4G testing tools (New Sim card + 4G enabled device) along with a feedback form. Upon activation of the 4G pilot, the user will benefit from 4G coverage in limited areas in Beirut with a 3GB data limit per month for a period of 3 months. If you exceed the 3GB consumption limit in the third month, the service will be deactivated.

Pilot launch will start on March 18th 2013 and end on June 18th 2013.

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The device you get is a Huawei Ascend P1 LTE which looks like a decent Android smartphone to test on. I assume you can use your own phone if it supports 4G.

You can see below a SpeedTest screenshot back when 3G pilot phase was launched in September 2011. The 4G Download and Upload speeds are almost 3 times as better but I expected the speeds to be much higher than that to be honest. I don’t have a 4G dongle yet but I am hoping to get one next week.

Many thanks to Mark for the pictures and information.

MENA Internet Usage & Consumption Habits by Ipsos

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Internet Population Vs. Internet Penetration [High-Res]

Ipsos MENA had a very interesting presentation yesterday at ArabNet covering statistics related to internet penetrations, internet usage and consumption habits in the region. For those of you who don’t know, Ipsos is the 3rd largest market research firm in the world with over 5000 clients worldwide and a direct presence in 85 countries. Ipsos MENA is the leading market research company in the region with over 800 clients and covering more than 20 countries.

I was able to get my hands on the presentation (Thank you Dalia) and thought I share with you some interesting stats related to Lebanon:

- Lebanon ranks 5th in terms of internet penetration in the region, with 56%. UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are in the first three positions, with 75%, 64% and 61% respectively.

- Reading news online is the top consumed type of media in all countries except ksa where online TV consumption dominates.

- Penetration of social networks in Lebanon stands at 47%, compared to 88% in Jordan, 79% in Egypt, 73% in the UAE and 68% in Saudi Arabia.

- Penetration of e-commerce among Internet users is 9% in Lebanon, 35% in Kuwait and 46% in UAE.

- The top products purchased on line in Lebanon are clothes (38%), Airline tickets (11%) and Hotel bookings (11%).

- Penetration of Smartphones in Lebanon: 36% vs. 63% in KSA and 61% in UAE.

- Penetration of online streaming across Internet Users in Lebanon: 23% only (Series, Movies, Music Videos).

- 38% of Internet users download online in Lebanon. 86% download music.

- Penetration of Electronic Games among total population: 37% in Lebanon vs. 40% in Jordan which is the highest. We are obviously hooked on games here.

online [High-Res]

It’s quite sad to see horoscopes as being in the top 3 online contents of interest in Lebanon.

Update on the 4G Pilot Dongles

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3.9G – Almost there.

Even though the winners of the 200 4G Dongles were announced a month ago, the dongles were not yet distributed. I was told we might have them by the end of the month but it’s not confirmed yet. I also had a quick chat with two guys from Alfa Telecom yesterday who told me the pilot phase should kick off very soon, knowing that the date of the commercial launch set by Minister Sehnaoui is April 23rd 2013. Technically speaking, pilot phase (assuming it’s one month only) should begin tomorrow if we are hoping to have 4G by April.

Back when the 3G was launched, the pilot phase was great but the few months that followed were not so well. Having said that, I don’t mind delaying the 4G launch until the infrastructure is ready and all issues are resolved. In the mean time, it would be a good idea to double the 3G caps as promised.

I will keep you posted with any updates.

PayPal soon in Lebanon

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Update: I just noticed Mustapha already mentioned the good news.

I met two guys from PayPal at the ArabNet conference today and they informed me that Lebanon will soon be authorized on PayPal (They didn’t say how soon though). I asked them whether Lebanon is blocked due to political reasons and they said that it is not related and that there are many countries in the Middle East not yet allowed to use the service. In fact, even Russia is not yet on their authorized countries’ list but will be very soon.

ArabNet Beirut 2013 Kicks off today!

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ArabNet is considered the hub for Arab digital professionals and entrepreneurs to connect and learn and has been a success for the past two years.

ArabNet Beirut’s third edition is set to kick off today with a lot of exciting speakers and competitions. This year’s focus will be on the “creative digital sectors and on promoting the idea of Lebanon as a hub for creative production” as per Arabnet’s founder Omar Christidis.

I will personally take part as an official blogger for ArabNet and I am looking forward to see the new startups this year. There are 3 competitions to look for, the Startup Demo Competition, the Ideathon and the Creative Combat. You can check out the official agenda [Here] and the evening program [Here].

If you want to follow updates throughout the day, follow me on twitter [LeNajib]