Coronavirus: Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi calls for Skype and VoIP ban lift

Emirati academic said UAE should look at free calling services as schools close and businesses work remotely

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is an avid art collector, curator and founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation. Razan Alzayani / The National
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The ban on free internet calling should be reconsidered as schools start using e-learning and companies allow people to work remotely, an Emirati academic and art collector said.

Lifting restrictions on Skype and voice over internet (VoIP) services would minimise the impact coronavirus could have, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi said on Wednesday.

“I highly recommend that the UAE now re-visits its ban on VoIP video calls in light of the spread of coronavirus," he wrote on Twitter, where he has almost 500,000 followers.

"If we want people not to meet in person let them conduct their business online. The benefit to the entire economy outweighs the benefit to a single firm (Etisalat).

“No remote working, no distance learning, no telemedicine without VoIP. It's actually a matter of how soon we will lift - rather than if we will lift - the VoIP restrictions in the UAE."

Mr Al Qassemi is also a member of the ruling family of Sharjah.

"The sooner we do so the sooner we can minimise the effects on the economy,” he said.

The removal of restrictions on free services has been debated in recent years, including by members of the Federal National Council.

Without free calling features on apps such as WhatsApp, UAE residents rely on paid-for services provided by the country's main telecoms providers, du and Etisalat.

Both providers were contacted for comment.

In place of Skype and WhatsApp calls, many businesses and schools use paid-for services including Zoom, Cisco Webex and Skype for Business, part of Office 365.

Regionally, Saudi Arabia scrapped its ban on internet calling applications in September 2017.

Many residents said they wanted to see restrictions lifted.

Naveen Shafeeq, a single mother in Dubai, said using Skype to communicate with her parents back home in Pakistan would help her avoid hefty phone bills.

“International calls can cost you a lot. I spend about Dh300 on credit monthly, most of which is used to call my parents in Pakistan,” she said.

“Using Skype calls is going to be so convenient for all us because we can video chat. My daughter can also use it to talk to her grandparents. Right now we keep the phone calls limited to 15 to 20 minutes, but WhatsApp calls or Skype can change that.”

A Filipina resident who works a salesperson in Dubai, Marie Leano, also said it will help her save costs on phone bills.

“I have my mother and my two daughters in the Philippines and I would like to be able to call them on WhatsApp calls whenever I can,” she said.

“It’s easy with these applications to contact family members who live outside of UAE, even the calling feature on Facebook would help us.”