Skype and WhatsApp accord needed for calls, says du

Operator insists it its open to offering service despite June outage

Du, the UAE's second largest telecoms provider, insisted it is open to offering voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and WhatsApp calling over its network, provided such services are offered in partnership with operators, according to a senior executive.

Skype, which is available over fixed but not mobile internet connections in the UAE, abruptly stopped working completely a month ago in the UAE, with the service gradually coming back online a few days later.

Fahad Al Hassawi, du's chief commercial officer, told The National that the operator had no objection to allowing VoIP calling services over its network, but that formal agreements had to be signed between the networks and providers first.

“We have an open invitation to any provider, be it WhatsApp, Skype or whoever, to come and partner with us, and we can come up with the right offering that falls within the licensing requirements here in the UAE,” said Mr Al Hassawi.

“There’s an obligation on us as operators to make sure that we’re offering such services according to the terms of our licence from the regulator.”

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said during last month’s Skype outage that its policy on VoIP services was unchanged and that such services could only be provided by licensed telecoms operators.

Skype for its part said that its website and services had been blocked by both du and Etisalat. “Unfortunately, there is very little Skype can do about this situation,” it said.

The outage came days after WhatsApp voice and video calling briefly became available in the UAE after previously having been restricted, only for the service to disappear a day later.

WhatsApp and Skype were unavailable for comment on Sunday.

Small business owners and other UAE residents expressed frustration at the time over the Skype and WhatsApp outages, saying restrictions on such services are at odds with the country's attempts to encourage the growth of SMEs.

Operators have in the past argued against the formal introduction of VoIP services on their networks, arguing that the resulting erosion of international call revenues hinder their ability to invest in their networks.

Speaking at the opening of du's store in Yas Mall on Sunday , Mr Al Hassawi said the operator had approached VoiP providers in the past, but doubted their enthusiasm to strike partnership deals.

“Each of those providers are global companies that have certain priorities for certain markets and certain strategies that they tend to stick to worldwide,” he said. “So I don’t believe they’ve reached a point where they feel the time is right for them to have these discussions at a country level, but we’ll continue extending our invitation to them and we can have these discussions.”

Both du and Etisalat are due to release second-quarter earnings figures this week.