The call to lift the ban on Voice of Internet Protocol (VoIP) service is again getting stronger in the UAE.
Social media networks were abuzz with discussions over a potential lifting of the ban on VoIP services over the weekend, as a few residents claimed they could make WhatsApp calls within the UAE.
The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), however, refuted the claims as “rumours”.
The residents confirmed the use of VoIP service within the UAE, following the leading Emirati business owner Khalaf Al Habtoor’s public call for the service to be made freely available to all. In a video, the chairman of Al Hatboor Group stressed that UAE telecom firms – Etisalat and du – should allow VoIP calls as the UAE strives towards becoming the number one country in everything, including the communications sector.
Ahmed Bilal Wahid, a UAE resident, took to Twitter (ABWDXB) and said: “Hearing news that WhatsApp and Skype calls are now working in the #UAE #MyDubai after the honourable @KhalafAlHabtoor made a public request to have VOIP calls activated. Just tried and Alhamdulillah it’s working on WiFi.” Wahid was not the only person who claimed he could use the service.
Khaleej Times spoke to several residents, who said they were able to access the service for free.
Anil Krishna, an Indian resident of Dubai, said: “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I try for a couple of minutes and if it works, it works. On Friday night and Saturday morning, I could make a few calls locally. International calls did not work.”
However, the TRA has denied ‘rumours’ about WhatsApp calling being allowed in the UAE and network providers Etisalat and du did not comment on the issue.
The TRA has also maintained that the availability of VoIP is the choice of licensed telecommunication providers – du and Etisalat.
A source at du also confirmed that the claim was just a rumour. A report in Emarat Al Youm quoted a TRA source as saying that social media posts about the service being allowed in the UAE are ‘fake and just rumours’.
The TRA has on several occasions maintained that any application or service of this type must comply with the applicable regulatory framework in the country.
“The UAE is not the only nation in the UAE to ban VoIP services. Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and China have placed similar restrictions.
The TRA maintains that “VoIP services are still a prerogative of the licensed providers who reserve the right to provide such services through their networks”. “Companies wishing to offer such services must coordinate with the licensed telecom providers in the UAE.”
Following the block of Skype, Etisalat launched two unlimited calling VoIP applications – C’Me and BOTIM – for both iOS and Android devices.
With a 4.1 rating on the Apple app store, the mobile application has 87,000 ratings on the app store. Users need to pay Dh100 for unlimited calls over WiFi and Dh50 over data.
Nitin Dinesh, a BOTIM user and Dubai resident, said: “I make calls on BOTIM a few days in a week. My friends live in Canada, and I can speak to them for a really low cost. But I need to ask my friends to download and pay for the app as well. They find that unnecessary as they have access to other free VoIP services.”
“Using VoIP is good for people, especially the blue collar workers. They spend hundreds of dirhams on calling cards, and a free VoIP service would benefit them immensely. A lot of us can afford a Dh50 expense on apps like BOTIM. We need to think of ones who cannot,” said Karim Muhammed, a sales and marketing professional in Abu Dhabi.
Another user and Lebanese national Bassam Ahmed said: “I spend approximately Dh2,500 on phone calls. My work involves me having to make several calls a day, and a lot of them are international. If the introduction of free VoIP can cut costs, it would benefit businessmen.”