Complex Made Simple

Saudi lifts ban on VoIP but the UAE restricts it? Does this make sense?

If you illegallySkype with friends from the UAE, you could potentially face trial for a federal crime.

Dubai’s international, regional and local omnipresence is balking at the simplest of communication tools that one day might be obsolete after new IP based innovations take over and make the service archaic.

Trying to make sense of the dangers that VoIP present is hard, not when the UAE, a model of transparency, is actually falling behind traditionally conservative Saudi, who last September lifted the ban on VoIP, forever.

Dubai-based telecom operator du reported a net profit of AED476 million ($130m)  in Q3 2017, earning AED 3.13 billion ($852m) the first 9 months of the year.

Etisalat group reported a net profit of AED 2.4bn in Q3 2017, with group consolidated revenues amounting to AED 12.9bn ($3.5bn) for first 9 month of the year.

Is this a move aimed at protecting revenues for UAE’s telecom providers?

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Talking is not cheap

Telecom service providers Etisalat and Du both confirmed that the Skype application has been blocked in the UAE due to its status as an unlicensed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service.

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) says that any VoIP service must be licensed and anyone using it may be committing a criminal offence.

“As voice calls provided by Skype are considered to be a Regulated Activity, such services have to be provided by a Licensee,” states the TRA on their website. “Hence it is illegal to use such software to make calls (e.g. Skype-out/Skype-in), unless this third party (e.g. Skype) is licensed by the TRA to provide such services or a Licensee provides the service in collaboration with this third party.”

Etisalat and du are hoping traffic will now stream towards their own applications Botim and C’Me, which are free services, and usable only if you pay anywhere between AED50 and AED100 for internet calling, depending on user.

TRA’s list of prohibited Internet content has VoIP at number 14 in importance.

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UAE VoIP: Not many choices

In addition to VoIP offered by licensed telecoms in the UAE, VoIP services will be allowed if they meet certain criteria and conditions.

Google Duo was launched in 2017 and functions normally to date.

WhatsApp calls worked in June 2017, but were later banned as well, in addition to Skype, Facetime, and Viber which all fall under the regulation of the TRA.

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Saudi VoIP: too many choices

Since September 20, 2017, Saudis are now free, and without any fee, able to use Video and VoIP like Skype, WhatsApp and others.

The ban which had been implemented in 2014 was lifted as per the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), Saudi’s sector regulatory authority.

“Applications that meet the regulatory requirements will be available to all users of telecommunications services, for example, TimeTime, , Skype, Line, Telegram, Tango and other applications, except those applications that are very limited to meet regulatory requirements,” CITC said in a statement.

At the time, it was reported that the change could impact Saudi Telecom Company, (STC), Mobily and Zain, the country’s three major telecoms that had exercised control over the market for international calling over the course of the ban.