Only licensed entities can offer VoIP

TRA clarifies questions raised over legality of Skype in UAE after Microsoft takeover

  • Longer-term, Skype would offerMicrosoft another route to develop its mobile presence, an area into which it Image Credit: Bloomberg News
  • Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talks during a news conference in San Francisco yesterday. Longer-term, Skype woulImage Credit: AP
  • Image Credit: Reuters/Gulf News

Dubai: As news of Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype spreads, questions are being raised once again about the legality of video calling on computers and mobile phones.

Skype is an immensely popular VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) software platform with global expatriates for its ability to place international calls between computers and handsets at no cost.

But for years Skype has been blocked in the UAE by telecoms operators which derive a large portion of their revenues from international calls placed by their customers.

Asked for clarification by Gulf News yesterday on whether Skype is still deemed illegal, the Tele-communications Regulations Authority (TRA) issued a revised copy of its policy noting that only licensed operators can engage VoIP services.

The TRA's VoIP Policy of December 2009 describes video calling as "a service that allows transmitting, receiving, delivering and routing of voice telecommunications by means of internet protocol."

It further states that "no person may engage in a regulated activity such as the provision of public telecommunications services unless licensed to do so in accordance with the telecommunications law.

Currently, etisalat, du and Star Communications are the only entities which are licensed to provide, retail VoIP services to subscribers in the UAE."

Mohammad Al Ganem, director general of the TRA, said in a statement last December that "only the telecom service providers in the UAE are licensed to offer VoIP services and they have started to provide these services already."

"We have been working with Skype and other VoIP providers to see if their services could be established here in the UAE," he said.

The position reflects a WAM press release in March last year which noted that the "TRA regulatory framework is technology neutral and the TRA does not prohibit VoIP as a technology."

In a subsequent interview with Gulf News, a senior Skype official said the global video phone services provider based in Luxembourg was not in any negotiations with the UAE.

"Skype is not in discussions with the UAE's TRA," said Rouzbeh Pasha, Skype's Head of Middle East and Africa in December.

"Generally speaking, we're always excited when people use Skype regardless of where they are. Skype connects people from all around the world through video and voice calls via multiple mobile devices," Pasha said.

"All you need to use Skype is the Skype software and an internet connection. It is that easy."

Pasha said the Middle East has lots of potential for video calling.

"If you look at the potential the UAE has, it is great. From our point of view, it's not really about any one country specifically. I'm in charge of a big region, [the] Middle East and Africa; it's 1.3 billion people with 300 million Arabic-speaking people," he said.

Dubai The new unification of Microsoft and Skype will have a positive impact on real-time communications, says Zaki Khoury, Microsoft's business manager for the Gulf.

"With this announcement, I'm pleased that together Microsoft and Skype will advance the state of real-time communications," Khoury told Gulf News.


"By combining the technologies and talent at Skype with Microsoft's long-standing focus and investment in real-time communications across its various platforms… the two companies will rapidly accelerate the value and deployments of communications worldwide."


  • Saeid

    12-May-2011 17:03

    VOIP technology is here to stay. I wish to see etisalat and du as major global providers of VOIP services. Turn the new challenge into opportunity.

  • Vinod

    12-May-2011 16:34

    The illegal voip is gaining popularity because of the high cost of international calls in UAE. If you take India as example, 2 GB data connection in India costs you less than Dh10 per month and a minute call to UAE is around 50 fils (peak time). Where as in UAE I am spending Dh100 to get a 1 GB data line (20 times that of India) and Dh2.4 per min to call India (peak time). Do you need any better example why people are going behind with voip calls? My advice to du and etisalat is to reduce the telecom charges. If you reduce the call charges, you can still make profit as usage will increase.

  • Rex

    12-May-2011 14:07

    Every telecom service provider in UAE should look at ways to provide cheaper international calls, through voip or any other source so that they can stop people using illegal sip calls. Otherwise, service providers will waste huge time and money trying to block all sip calls, as when one gets blocked, thousand others open.

  • Saravanan

    12-May-2011 13:36

    We are egerly waiting for consumer Skype services. Of course we are spending a lot of money in making international calls.

  • S. Kumar

    12-May-2011 10:46

    Etisalat/DU or Star Communications as mentioned by TRA should come up with a VoIP plan so that people don't have to spend a lot of money on international telephone calls. Looks like they are concerned if this would reduce their income from international calls on mobile phones.Actually, this would increase their avenues in making revenue.These operators or TRA should seriously look into this or else they will be left behind because the world is moving at lightning speed and if they don't follow, they will be surely left behind. At least on technology front...