FaceTime in Saudi Arabia mystery solved
The recent FaceTime “banning” in the region can only be described as peculiar. Mobily advertised FaceTime as a feature while in the UAE, Du said it’s unavailable days before the release. So what is going on? What is the real reason for banning FaceTime in the Middle East.
Let’s have a look at this file which can be found within iPhone 4 devices running iOS 4.1. The file should be located at:
/System/Library/RegionFeatures.txt or /System/Library/Lockdown/RegionFeatures.txt
Here is a screenshot of these files taken by Asim, you will need to jailbreak the iPhone to find the file via SSH:
The file displays features or limitations based on region. First column is the model number letters (the last 1 or 2 characters in a model number), I am not sure what is the second column and the third column includes the “features“.
Let’s take an example: “J” is the Japanese iPhone, the model numbers should be MC605J and MC603J. There are 2 region features: “SHUTTER(0x08)” and “TVNTSC(0x10)”. The first is most likely forcing the iPhone to make a shutter sound when taking photos which is required by law in Japan. The second sets the TV signal to NTSC.
Another example, “LL” is the United States, they also use NTSC so you notice “TVNTSC(0x10)” near the name.
The weird one is Switzerland’s code “CH” **CH** is China (thanks for the comments) it says no wifi “NOWIFI(0x20)” and “CNBRICK(0x40)”.
Other codes from the file: “GOOGLE(0x02)”, which is probably some kind of Google limitation. “VOLUME(0x04)”, most likely a limit on the volume level, another law in some countries.
And finally we have the code that matters to us: “NOVOIP(0x80)” as in no Voice over IP and in this case, most likely, FaceTime. It is located in front of 2 model number codes: “AE” (most likely Arab Emirates?) and “AB” (most like Arab?). With the iPhone 3GS the UAE/Saudi Arabia model iPhones had AB not AE.
This only proves that the FaceTime limitation is tied to the model number of the iPhone and not the Carrier Settings.
According to this document at brighthub titled “Countries that Block VOIP”: VOIP services are banned in following countries: United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria. Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are the only Middle Eastern countries with an iPhone 4 carrier that did not ban VOIP. However Tunisia’s iPhone 4 page lists FaceTime as a feature but while the Saudi Arabian page does not.
Here’s what I think: It is well known that the Saudi Arabian carrier, Mobily, is affiliated with UAE’s Etisalat. Etisalat even announced the Saudi Arabia iPhone 3G release, something they stopped doing with the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. It’s almost as if Apple made a deal with both Etisalat and Mobily instead of making independent deals. Before Apple released the iPhone 4 in the region someone noticed UAE’s laws regarding VOIP services and disabled VOIP in iOS 4.1 and updated the iPhone 4 websites. Finally, Du knew about the lack of FaceTime before they released the iPhone while Mobily only noticed one week later.
I believe that the disabling of FaceTime in Saudi Arabia was a mistake that was committed by Apple, Mobily and Etisalat. Etisalat didn’t clarify the difference between the 2 countries’ regulations regarding VOIP, Mobily didn’t notify Apple of Saudi Arabia’s regulations and Apple never checked. As for the other countries, they have their own anti-VOIP rules and they need to address it first.
What’s the next step? If Apple enabled FaceTime on Mobily’s iPhones that means all units with the model numbers MC605AE and MC603AE will have FaceTime enabled, including UAE’s and Qatar’s, a solution that they won’t allow. The only way to get FaceTime back is to release new iPhone 4 units with new model numbers assigned to Saudi Arabia. That means if people want FaceTime they have to return their AE iPhones. I see no other way.
Small update: If you live in Tunisia and bought an iPhone 4 from Orange please reply with the model number of your device. Thank you.