Dubai: Etisalat has launched an international voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calling card in the UAE to compete with Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), the holding company of Du.
EITC launched the first VoIP calling card – Hello! – in April 2010. It is not marketed under Du’s brand name.
“Hello! cards are available only at select outlets and targeted at labourers,” a Du spokesperson said.
The big question is why do telco operators launch new services without any high-profile launch. Even the Hello! card is not known to many people despite being sold in the market for more than two years.
Etisalat’s Five calling card offers discounted call rates to Bangladesh, China, India, Kuwait, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka for as little as 40 fils per minute, plus users can make calls to other countries at normal rates.
When contacted by Gulf News, etisalat did not make any comment about the card, but a call centre person at etisalat said the cards are sold at all business centres.
“The card can be used for both mobile and landline and is approved by the TRA. The cards are sold at all etisalat business centres, major shopping malls and grocery stores in the UAE,” a call centre agent at Five told Gulf News.
“Etisalat was supposed to launch the VoIP card in 2011. Now they have launched the card to compete with Du and steal its market share,” an industry expert, on condition of anonymity, told Gulf News.
“At present there are two licensees which are legally entitled to engage in or conduct regulated activities in the State. It is not the TRA’s present intention to issue any further licences that would allow the holders of such licences to provide VoIP services,” TRA said on its website dated December 30, 2009.
TRA has the right to block any third party providing the VoIP service for violating the law and the offender can be fined or jailed. But many users in the UAE have been making illegal VoIP calls for many years despite the regulatory authorities’ strict rules. Many cards are unofficially sold in the UAE for Dh28-Dh35 which gives a talk time of 600 minutes.
The VoIP calls are not that cheap when compared to the normal calling rates in the UAE.
According to Bhanu Chaddha, senior research analyst (Telecommunications) at International Data Corporation (IDC), operators in the UAE are allowed to offer VoIP services in the country they operate and have the licence to do so. It is totally approved by the TRA.
“The telco operators are mainly targeting the bottom of the pyramid and the expatriates with these cards,” he said.
Even though Skype is officially banned in the UAE, end users make calls to India for 9.2 US cents per minute, which converts to 33 fils per second.
“We took only 10 cards initially and they sold like hot cakes. The big issue about VoIP card is the call quality,” a grocery owner in Sharjah said.
“We intend to take more stocks of Five calling cards and have been getting more queries about the card. We have been selling Hello! cards for more than a year and getting good response from end users,” he said.
Five said the card works on both etisalat and du handsets and landlines.
The Five cards have validity for 15 days and 30 days with denominations of Dh20 and Dh50 while Hello! have denominations of Dh15 and Dh30.
Both the telco operators have been offering VoIP calls to businesses in the UAE for quite some time.