The UAE may soon relax its stance on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services such as WhatsApp calls and Skype. According to top cyber security officials, talks are underway to allow calls in the country.
Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, exective director of the UAE’s National Electronic Security Authority, has shed light on the UAE talking with WhatsApp about its VoIP service.
“There might be a lift of that ban for [WhatsApp] voice calls… and this is going to happen soon, this is what we know and understand from the telecommunication authority here in the UAE.” he told CNBC’s Capital Connection programme.
“The collaboration with WhatsApp has actually increased, and in many of those (projects) we saw a very good understanding (from them) of the concept we have,”
WhatsApp messaging is still fair-game in the UAE, with a lot of the UAE’s population using the voice note feature as a substitute to internet calls. The National claims that a lot of residents and businesses use VPNs (Virtual Private Network) to access VoIP services such as WhatsApp calls and Skype. VPNs themselves are a bit murky legally speaking, they’re not outright banned in the UAE, but using them to access illegal materials is a criminal offence.
Khaleej Times points out that businesses in particular are pushing the UAE to lift the ban on the internet-call service.
Khalaf Al Habtoor, chairman, Al Hatboor Group, had asked the that UAE telecom firms to allow VoIP calls as the UAE strives towards becoming number one country in everything including communications sector Khaleej Times reports.
“I would like to talk about a very important issue. A lot of people complain (about it). A lot of people use WhatsApp and Skype call everywhere in the world. (they’re) free all over the world except in my country. The telecom companies (in UAE) are blocking it and not allowing it. Therefore, I like to request the management and directors of these companies to release and free the system and enable everybody to enjoy it,” Al Habtoor said in a video statement last year.
Even with the block on internet calls, WhatsApp and Skype are two of the three most popular communication apps in the UAE. In 2019, 82% of the UAE’s 9.61 million population used WhatsApp, equating to an impressive 7.88 million users according to data collated by Global Media Insight. Similarly, Skype has 4.32 million users, making up 45% of the population and making it the third most popular messaging app despite its block.
The news of talks to loosen the rules on VoIP services comes just a few years after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on internet calls back in 2017. At that time, the country’s internal information ministry said it was to “reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship”.
Both Etisalat and du blocked VoIP services back in late-2017, resulting in the companies releasing their own internet calling services such as C’Me and BOTIM.