Etisalat have launched a new internet calling plan, 11 days after UAE Skype users noticed that Skype calls stopped working.
The unlimited calling plans enable UAE subscribers to use government-approved voice over internet protocol (VoIP) apps at a fixed rate of Dh52.50 a month for use on mobile devices, and Dh105 a month to use over a computer connected to an eLife account.
BOTIM and C'Me are currently the only apps that comply to UAE regulatory framework requirements for VoIP calling. Both parties need to download one of the two apps to connect.
du offers a similar internet calling package at the same price, and BOTIM and C'Me are also the only VoIP apps that can be used on the package, according to their website.
According to a statement, Etisalat said that other VoIP apps could be added to their package in the future.
A customer service representative informed The National, however, that users based outside of the UAE may not need to pay for the government approved app at this time. "As per our information, this application is not chargeable in any other country," they said.
They also said that this could change and is at the discretion of the overseas internet service provider.
The monthly fee, which amounts to Dh1,260 a year, will be charged automatically every 30 days.
The use of VPNs, often used to circumvent local internet restrictions, remains illegal.
Disruptions began on Skype on December 28, as many tried to connect with family over the Christmas and New Year period.
In response, a petition was started by a Dubai resident, Mostafa Amr, on change.org, urging the Telecoms Regulatory Authority to change its policy towards VoIP. The campaign, called UAE: Stop Blocking VoIP Services, received more than 1,000 signatures by January 2.
The change.org website is now blocked in the UAE.
Microsoft-owned service Skype was already blocked from access in the UAE as it is an unlicensed VoIP service; however, users who had downloaded the app onto devices while overseas were able to use it without problems.
Responding to complaints on social media, Skype asked users to contact their service providers, noting it was “sadly out of our hands”.
Skype users faced further disruptions in June last year, disrupting international businesses and expatriates. Services improved after numerous complaints to providers to unblock the service.
The UAE cites security concerns as its reason for limiting access to VoIP services, including services on WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook.
Etisalat could not be reached for further comment.