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UAE could clamp down on new Google services

New US service could threaten Gmail; Google Talk also under spotlight

UAE could clamp down on new Google services
The addition of voice services to Google's Gmail chat could see the service blocked in the UAE.

UAE analysts are warning that Gmail services in the country could be blocked, if the introduction of new service from Google goes ahead.

The US giant is planning to roll out regional versions of Google Voice, which has just been introduced in the US as a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service using Gmail's Google Chat interface.

However, given that VoIP services are banned in the UAE unless they are conducted via the three licensed operators - Etisalat, du and Yahsat - there are concerns that any ban on Google Voice could also lead to an interruption of the Gmail service as well.

"If it's a case that you can't separate the two, than it probably gives cause for concern for Gmail users," Irfan Ellam, a telecoms analyst with Al Mal Capital, told Arabian Business.

"The official line from the Telecoms Regulatory Authority (TRA) is that only UAE operators would be allowed to offer VoIP services through the licensed operators. So Google Voice really falls under the same umbrella as Skype from that perspective," he added.

Some pages on the Google Voice website appear to have already been blocked by the TRA.

"Predicting the TRA's moves is not an easy task," said Matthew Reed, a senior analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media.

"Given that some of the other services that offer similar functionality to BlackBerry services - such as Google Talk - are also encrypted it's conceivable that the TRA might turn its attention to these other services, though we can only speculate as to whether they will."

Although the service is not available in the Middle East as yet, a statement from the US-based company provided to Arabian Business confirmed that regional versions of the service were in the pipeline.

"Google VoIP is currently being rolled out in the US only as our first step. The feature is not available in MENA. Google will be rolling out additional localised versions but we have nothing to announce at the moment," the Google statement said.

Arabian Business contacted the TRA, but the body was unable to provide a spokesperson to comment on the issue.

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