Windows Middle East electronic edition 10th May 2005

The popular VoIP web site Skype.com has been blocked across the UAE, angering expat users but surprising few industry insiders. The ins and outs of why the site was actually banned, and by whom, make for a somewhat complex read, but there is light at the end of this particular tunnel…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  May 8, 2005

Talk was cheap, but not any more|~||~||~|The popular VoIP web site Skype.com has been blocked across the UAE, angering expat users but surprising few industry insiders. The ins and outs of why the site was actually banned, and by whom, make for a somewhat complex read, but there is light at the end of this particular tunnel… It was bound to happen. Unless you log on to the internet from a ‘free zone’ location, Skype is no more in the UAE. In fact, it may be partly the fault of Windows Middle East magazine. After all, every other international consumer VoIP service has long since been blocked by the UAE authorities, so in a sense we were risking the same thing happening to Skype by even discussing it. The reader letters in recent days to daily UAE newspapers such as 7Days have been venting steam primarily at Etisalat. However, the telco’s claim is that it is, in fact, merely doing as it’s told by the TRA (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority - the UAE’s telecoms rule maker). Etisalat says the TRA simply doesn’t allow VoIP, end of story. "The blocking of the web sites providing such services comes as per the instructions of TRA," Etisalat’s PR manager Ahmed Bin Ali told Windows. I wanted to clarify matters with both parties and, more importantly, find out the legal stance on VoIP direct from the source. The TRA’s ‘Telecom Law’ (available as a PDF download from www.tra.ae) doesn’t specifically mention VoIP, but I managed to track down a TRA spokesperson. So here it is, your guide to what consumer VoIP use is allowed and what isn’t, straight from the horse’s mouth: PC-to-PC voice chat (such as voice calls via messenger programs, including in fact Skype software’s own messenger function) is allowed. Good news. Mop your brow, breathe deep, let’s move on. PC-to-phone calls however, are not, as these involve paying cash to a non-Etisalat party. You could be buying SkypeOut (PC-to-phone) credit online or giving cash to a net café owner for a scratch card, it doesn’t matter which, it’s still very much a no-no. The truth is that the café owner or the site offering the service will likely be the one penalised, and you yourself are unlikely to end up behind bars for this kind of naughtiness, but that doesn’t mean we’re recommending you use up remaining SkypeOut credit calling phone abroad from your PC. What might that result in? “No comment” said the TRA, which I for one assume means you would probably escape scott-free. If you’re still an annoyed Skyper, and my words have done little to ease your pain, you could do worse than writing to the TRA and making your thoughts known (the generic e-mail address is info@tra.ae). That aside, my advice is to relax in the knowledge that the future should be rosier than the present, because just last weekend the TRA announced that it had awarded a telecoms licence to a second company. Called WAM, this organisation will compete - as far as two partly state owned operators can - with Etisalat, which should in theory lead to better prices and services being offered. Not only that, but in order to get in there first Etisalat is currently working on its own VoIP service. This is due later in the year, so it will be intriguing to see what that offers, how it compares to the kind of online services that the TRA has been busily shutting down, and of course how much cash us humble consumers will have to fork out for it. As one techie friend remarked to me the other day, “we are waiting to be impressed…” ||**||

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