Users vent spleen over VoIP block

Internet users in the UAE and overseas have expressed their anger, frustration and bemusement at what appears to be the recent tightening of VoIP restrictions in the UAE.

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By  Matthew Wade Published  September 14, 2006

Internet users in the UAE and overseas have expressed their anger, frustration and bemusement at what appears to be the recent tightening of VoIP restrictions in the UAE. Following the publication of the latest ‘Windows Middle East - Electronic Edition’ yesterday, which detailed the internet voice communication services that no longer work in the UAE, Windows Middle East’s editorial team has been inundated with reader responses, ranging from considered comments to raging rants. “With Etisalat investing offshore and competing in other markets, the time must come when there is a reasonable amount of competition here,” one reader predicted, adding that they hoped "this would bring some debate with it on what is a commercial as opposed to security matter.” “The whole thing is based only on revenue raising,” suggested an angrier respondent. “To say it's national security is (rubbish) too - the Chinese seem to manage to control it OK!” One UAE reader suggested that consumer pressure had overturned a previous Skype block in Saudi Arabia: “Two or three years ago Saudi Telecom also blocked Skype, which led to mass complaints from users. After a while, the telco gave up and unlocked it.” The same reader also outlined his dismay that VoIP technology seems to be okay for Etisalat itself to use, but not acceptable for end users themselves to use. “I found the most intensive user of VoIP technology in the UAE to be, not the expats, no, but Etisalat itself,” he commented, “At least 40% of international calls are carried via VoIP gateways (something which is common in all telcos worldwide) to save rental charges for fixed lines, and make much more profit, of course. But Etisalat never threatens ‘national security’ by this.” According to one itp.net reader based in Dubai but who travels around the region on a regular basis, “Skype, Vonage and Google Talk services are fully operational in Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.” He added, “With many basic costs in the UAE rising, this ill-judged action will only serve to give credence to the movement that is starting to emerge that costs of living are becoming prohibitive and will only facilitate moves to other countries such as Singapore and Bahrain.” Further a field, one reader based in Germany even wrote in, astonished that a country that positions itself as business-friendly and future-facing is currently restricting VoIP, saying: “To us over here it is amazing to learn that Etisalat is blocking these convenient possibilities of communication. Over here, the German Telecom (formerly state owned, now privatised) is forced by law to allow competition.” Etisalat is rumoured to be currently working on its own consumer VoIP service, but to date no official comment on this has been made available. The UAE's regulatory body, the TRA, is due to comment to Windows on the status of VoIP shortly.

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