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Skype Users In The UAE Won’t Go To Jail – Experts

Skype Users In The UAE Won’t Go To Jail – Experts

Etisalat recently announced that it has unblocked Skype, but VoIP services by external providers are still banned in the UAE.

UAE telecoms operator Etisalat recently announced that it would unblock Skype, the popular Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service in the UAE.

“Etisalat Customers can now access the Skype website,” the operator said in a single-line statement on Facebook.

While residents have been able to access Skype via Etisalat’s rival du, users subscribing to Etisalat’s services had been unable to download it for a number of years.

However, the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) confirmed that under its regulatory policy, only the licensees – Etisalat and du – are allowed to provide VoIP services in the UAE.

So technically, Skype is still banned in the country.

“In reality, all this move does is create confusion for many residents,” stated Andrew Baul Lewis, director, Information and Communication Technologies Practice at Frost & Sullivan.

“For those who have been using VoIP services for years, through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or more recently through mobile apps, it will mean almost no change at all. What they were doing was banned by the TRA, and it remains that way,” he said.

Earlier this week, a local newspaper report quoted a senior TRA official as saying that users of Skype would violate “the amended Article 71 of the Telecommunications Act.”

Punishment includes imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine ranging between Dhs50,000 and Dhs1million, it stated.

The TRA immediately denied making any such statements.

“Furthermore, there are number of factual inaccuracies; for instance, the provisions of article (71) do not apply in this case,” it said.

“It seems unlikely that anyone could be effectively prosecuted for using a service that is serviced and endorsed by their telecoms provider,” said Lewis.

“For the TRA, it is a concern… It’s likely that these moves will make the TRA announce its position on Skype and other VoIP services, before too long, as the pressure for clarity from customers as well as the service providers will grow,” he added.

According to Hasan Sandila, senior analyst – Telecommunications at IDC Middle East, Turkey & Africa, both Etisalat and du have not actively promoted VoIP services due to the risk of cannibalisation of their own voice revenues.

“Etisalat now decided to unblock Skype primarily due to two main reasons. Firstly, in the UAE, mobile voice growth is stagnating despite voice being a high revenue generating service. Etisalat is focusing more on mobile data and has enhanced its efforts to increase consumption through apps such as Skype, which generally consume large amounts of data. This eventually translates into higher data revenues.

“Also, a number of reports have claimed that du had already unblocked Skype a couple of weeks ago and Etisalat had to follow suit as a reaction to the change in the competitive dynamics,” he stated.

“IDC believes that unblocking Skype would not have a significant effect on Etisalat’s or du’s business. While it would have an impact on international voice revenues, IDC expects it to be partially offset by the increase in data revenues,” he added.

Frost and Sullivan’s Lewis agrees: “For most telecoms operators today, the loss of revenue from SMS and voice services from VoIP- based offerings has already been absorbed and built into their plans. Of course, the income reduction caused by this shift will have an impact, but usage will grow to cover some of that loss,” he said.

Along with Skype, both the operators also have their own VoIP products – Etisalat released calling cards earlier this year, while the Hello! VoIP card has been offered by du since 2010.

“These calling cards are basically offered to target the low income population which needs to make international calls at affordable rates,” explained Sandila.

“A majority of this population are workers who come to UAE for a short stay. Usually, this segment of the population does not have an internet subscription to use Skype services and hence VoIP calling cards seem to be the best proposition.”

Going ahead experts say operators have to open up to more and more VoIP services.

“With wide-spread web access and apps, the telecom operators have moved into a global market, where the boundaries of what can be controlled within physical borders do not apply. Security concerns aside, there are no real reasons why these services should be blocked,” said Lewis.

“There is no alternative for the telecom operators.”

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