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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.

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About Khaled A.

66 comments

  1. What if you edited this file and remove the limitation line of AE model?

  2. So based on that, hypothetically, 2 iPhone 4’s bought from Europe can use Facetime in Saudi? Or is there also something altered in the carrier network the phone is connected to?

  3. Finally the truth revealed

    I used to say and mention, Mobily has nothing to do with this, its a software restrictions from apple, its not a press of a button to enable or disable face time or any other feature

  4. Etisalat, Mobily and Apple you ALL SUCK!!

  5. عبدالرحمن حجار

    makes sense.
    thanks guys

  6. Supreme Council for Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) clarifies that VOIP services is NOT prohibited for personal use. except selling it without licence which is currently restricted to Qtel and Vodafone Qatar. 

    http://www.ict.gov.qa/output/page781.asp  

  7. Then you should sue Mobily and Apple for that matter!!!!

  8. Did you try changing the file now that the jailbreak is out?!! … if it works great, and if it doesn’t … i guess i’ll buy my iphone from Jarir

  9. I believe there is one more solution for apple. They can put the voip limitions on the carrier settings instead of the system settings. That way the AE models will have FaceTime when used with carriers from other regions were voip is allowed. But for that a major update has to be implemented. Hopefully if mobily can pressure apple soon enough may be we can expect some solution till the 4.2 release. Or else. May be apple can recall all these mobiles for a replacement. Which is not a bad solution for apple when their company reputation is stake.

  10. Is mobily taking note or they don’t care. Anyone Any coments?

    • they don’t care…and even if they do, Apple won’t because this will enable FT in UAE & SA at the same time

  11. “NOWIFI” and “CNBRICK” should be CH, that represents China… not Switzerland

  12. I am glad I purchased from Jarir.

  13. I have a question

    The iphone sold in Jarir, which has the face time feature, is it officially unlocked?!

  14. Does anyone knows if I bought an iPhone 4 from Singapore if it has an Arabic keyboard or no ?? Any problems with Facetime ?   Thanks  

    • dude whatever the country is you will find Arabic it is the same software worldwide.
      and for Singapore thing I believe that Jarir is bringing them form there and so far ppl satisfied with FT

  15. hhhmmmm…. any news from STC ????

  16. we have to do something for this with the help of saudimac. lets make a petition or else to apple

  17. hi pplz
    im waitting until that face time shit !! is over
    i read lot off blogs on iphone 4 problems and i just plane to buy nokia n8 but still its an option
    i dont no what the hell is going on !!!

  18. Hi, just to correct this line “First row is the model number letters”, it’s actually column. BTW it’s a great post! interesting!

  19. hi khaled
    i have the new ipod touch  from ABM, FaceTime is working fine ! with firmware 4.1
    the part number is MC540FD 
    you can see the details in my website 

  20. If this true, then STC’s iPhones should have FaceTime enabled since they will be using different models other the ones for AE, isn’t it?

  21. *UPDATE*
    This file is NOT the reason. If you edit it you get no good and it’s also there on a mobily 4.0.2 iPhone with working FT

  22. so is there anyway to get facetime in uae? if yes please link me 

  23. I brought a iphone 4 from dubai, i cut the regular sim of STC and inserted, the phone doesn’t read the sim and No SIM message appears, I tried the same with a Mobily sim yet no sucess.

    Can any one advise me what might be the issue, is the phone defective? or else does it required to be unlocked / jailbreak etc.

    Thanks

  24. why like that 😀 well im OFW working here in saudi arabia. is there anyway that i can activate that facetime when im came back to the philippines?

  25. hey guyz y dont u
    checkout jailbreak apps – FaceTime Hacktivator or MiddleWhat.

    Both the hacks available on the Cydia App Store will enable FaceTime in unsupported countries like UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

  26. The stupid thing is that ipad 2 with AE model number bought from Extra (KSA) dosen’t have face time either .. so frustrating

  27. The stupid thing is that ipad 2 with AE model number bought from Extra (KSA) dosen’t have face time either even if it’s updated to IOS 5.0.1 fom egypt with a vodafone Data sim and as usual vodafone knows nothing .. so frustrating

  28. The stupid thing is that ipad 2 3g with AE model number bought from Extra (KSA) dosen’t have face time either even if it’s updated to IOS 5.0.1 fom egypt with a vodafone Data sim and as usual vodafone knows nothing .. so frustrating while forums said that vodafone allowed it and iphone users started to recieve carrier updates and facetime suddenly appeard but on ipad 2 smach ur head into a concrete wall

  29. Sorry For Repeated posts .. i just recieve error each time i submit ..thnkx

  30. I would like to sue Apple, there is no restriction here in Saudi, even cheap Nokia have video calling feature, then why i get less features while paying same expensive price like the rest of the world? If Apple have any respect for the Saudi customers they should recall this garbage they selling to us here is Saudi and replace it with full working services.

  31. So I guess no Facetime for iphones here in saudi then? What about those who will be going back to their respective countries, will Facetime be available once we get back to our country? Say for example in the Philippines? This is such a disappointment caused by Apple. They should have reviewed everything before making the modifications on the phone.

  32. Md370AE – I bought the device in UAE, I am not using any sim, just the wifi. Surprisingly no Face time available on the new iPad. What’s the solution, can be fixed any way. Any one succeeded to fix?

  33. In qatar we have 2 service providers Qtel & vodafone when you insert vodafone sim, facetime is actve and work fine otherwise when you insert Qtel sim facetime is disable and not appear in sitting or restrictions menu
    http://postimage.org/image/5tcep19mj/

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