Skype users in the UAE urge rethink of VoIP policy

Several users have complained of disruptions to Skype over the last week

Microsoft-owned Skype has been unavailable to users in the UAE over the last week. Photo Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
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UAE-based users of Skype are calling on the federal regulator to rethink policy regarding Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in the country as recent disruptions to the phone and video service have impacted business with users unable to hold meetings over the app.

Users have complained that Microsoft-owned Skype, which allows for free calls through VoIP, bypassing traditional service providers has been considerably slower over the last week.

One user, who goes by Ruchir Purohit on Twitter, raised a complaint via the social networking app to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), telecoms service providers du and Etisalat that his business meetings had been impacted because of the ban.

BOTIM and C’Me are licensed VoIP apps recently launched by Etisalat to provide internet calling services for a fee. Several users have alleged that the recent ban on Skype coincides with the campaign to encourage users to pay for these apps.

Du clarified in a statement to The National that there "has been no changes in the VoIP policy followed in the UAE" and encouraged users to adopt its new internet calling services.

“As per Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, any unauthorized applications or services that are providing VoIP calling services are not supported in UAE,” it said in a statement.

Du did not comment on whether the service provider had any role in the recent slowdown of service. Etisalat was not available for comment.

TRA could not be immediately reached for comment but had earlier referenced its 2015 clarification citing VoIP as a “regulated activity” that would require a licence to operate in the country.

Meanwhile, an online campaign has gained traction to urge a rethink of current policy towards VoIP services in the UAE.

Dubai resident Mostafa Amr has petitioned the TRA, du and Etisalat to release their ban on VoIP providers that have impacted free calling services on Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, TeamSpeak as well as gaming app Discord.

"I am forever grateful for VoIP, it has saved me millions each year and we cannot stand these bans," he told The National.

"Companies that are international (operate outside of the UAE) simply can’t and don’t know how to apply for the so called “license” to operate VoIP services in the UAE. There should be more transparency and more flexible rules,” he added.

He hopes that his petition on will show the TRA, and telecoms providers in the UAE, that residents "do not approve of their VoIP" rules and that the internet calling offers by the two firms are " not affordable" to most users.

The petition titled ‘UAE: Stop Blocking VoIP Services’, which is targeting 100 supporters has already gained 17 signatures, with one user, Hamad Khalid saying blocking VoIP would also “kill the gaming community” in the country.

Skype, which has 70 million users worldwide,  was previously reported to have been inaccessible to users in the UAE in June, much to the frustration of expatriates who use the free app to make calls to relatives and friends overseas.

In a statement on its website, Skype said that it was aware of the situation in the UAE however, there was “very little” it could do about it.

“The best course of action would be for you to speak to your ISP and ask why they are blocking Skype and request that they unblock our site and services,” it read.

The UAE has been wary of allowing access to VoIP services over security concerns. WhatsApp’s call feature has been blocked since it was launched last November, as have other internet calling services from sites such as Viber, Snapchat and Facebook.

The popular in-game voice chat app Discord has also been blocked. None of the call functions are licensed in the UAE.