Business | Telecoms

UAE regulator to suspend BlackBerry services from October 11

etisalat and du will develop alternative products to minimise service disruption

  • By Scott Shuey, Business Features Editor, and Abbas Al Lawati, Aya Lowe and Samia Badih, Staff Repo
  • Published: 10:22 August 1, 2010

A BlackBerry user in the UAE
  • Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News
  • Citing security concerns, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority is suspending BlackBerry services in the UAE from October 11.
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Dubai:  The banning of BlackBerry's messaging services, which include the smartphone's signature push-email service, will affect all residents and visitors to the UAE.

The ban, set to take effect on October 11, was announced by the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) on Sunday.

Have your say: What do you think about the TRA's decision?

The issue surrounding the BlackBerry began last week when the TRA announced that it was working with Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian manufacturer of the smartphones, to address issue of "social, judicial and national security."

Statement from etisalat on the TRA decision
du statement on the TRA decision 

Following Sunday's announcement, local reaction varied between condemnation and full support.

Security analysts and experts, however, have said that given the region's security concerns, moves to control and intercept communications were not only understandable, but recommended.

Nasreen Abdulla of Radio 2 reports on the suspension of Blackberry services

Listen!

 

Mustafa Al Ani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Centre, said efforts to control BlackBerry services were understandable as a lack of control could be a "major security headache" for the country.

"I can definitely understand this… There have been suspected cases of [organised criminals] using BlackBerrys to communicate. For me, that is enough to be alert. When you lose the ability to monitor the communications of organised criminals or spies, you immediately [take precautions]," he said.

After the announcement, the Department of Economic Development's Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection Division said it expects a spike in the number of complaints it will receive.

"We expect to get a lot of complaints, especially about the long-term packages," said Omar Bu Shahab, chief executive officer of the DED's Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection Division.

Bone of contention

Security experts say BlackBerry's Messenger (BBM) service, which uses both encryption and a secure data connection, is the root of the issue.

Messages sent on this network bypass local security and are sent direct to RIM's data centre in Ontario, Canada.

Following the announcement, UAE telecom operators etisalat and du said they will develop "alternative" products and services for BlackBerry users. Both operators said they "understand the legal and social considerations behind the TRA decision" and would fully comply with it.

The TRA instructed the operators to "ensure minimal consumer disruption in the provision of alternative services". A TRA spokesperson said etisalat, du and RIM are all working to find a service that follows the TRA regulation and UAE law.

Etisalat spokesperson Ahmad Bin Ali told Gulf News that there would be a lot of alternative services, but did not clarify any further.

"Alternatives and all information will be announced hopefully this week, as we just received the announcement from [the] TRA today," he said on Sunday.

RIM did not respond to requests for a comment.

How do you think this is going to affect you? Will you continue using the Blackberry? Or will you buy a different phone?

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