DUBAI: Recent call rate cuts may have raised the bar on the competition between etisalat and du, but Skype remains still way cheaper – up to 7.5 times less, an XPRESS survey shows.
Etisalat recently cut call rates to 30 fils a minute to six countries – Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – but charges a set-up fee of Dh1 per call. Hello, du’s VoIP arm, cut rates by half to 20 fils per minute to a number of countries, including those in the sub-continent.
“These cuts are substantial,” said a telecommunications industry official who asked not be named.
Competition from VoIP carriers like Skype, whose website was unblocked by etisalat last month, still looms. XPRESS scoured the fine print of existing offers to compare rates, but the small differentiation can sometimes get confusing.
While it may take time before the likes of Skype are put on the defensive, the recent cuts show the local carriers are fighting back.
“It’s a boon for expatriates but we think we’ll be able to keep the volume of calls from mobile phone users,” said the official.
The fast-changing equation is taking place as governments embrace heightened competition and the inevitable shift of voice traffic from phone lines to the web, spurred by massive growth in globe-spanning fibre optic cables.
For example, while Skype’s “unlimited” call plan to India (2,500 minutes for about Dh89 per month) costs 3.5 fils per minute (eight times cheaper than etisalat’s), Skype’s pay-as-you-go service rate goes up to 33.1 fils (€.069) per minute, more than etisalat’s new discounted rate.
Meanwhile, both du and etisalat have come up with their own unbranded VoIP services. Hello, an affiliate of du and aimed at Asian labourers, recently cut by half call charges to India and Bangladesh to 20 fils. Five, etisalat’s VoIP arm, is expected to follow suit.
Meanwhile, du’s “international minutes bundle” now offers Dh5 for 10 minutes, effectively bringing down its rates to 50 fils a minute to four countries – Bangladesh, China, India and Pakistan. Illegal call providers offer various PC-to-phone services, though many customers report poor call quality.
On the whole, Skype remains competitive for expat from certain countries (see table). By law, only etisalat and du can provide VoIP services in the UAE. Neither of the two officially announced their VoIP services but they have been actively promoting the call cards among expatriate workers.
No comment was immediately available from either etisalat or du.