Classifieds powered by Gulf News

VoIP block angers residents

Not so long ago, throughout the UAE, cheap and even free calls were being made via the internet. Now, access to most Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are blocked some areas.

Internet cafe
Image Credit: Karl Jeffs/Gulf News
A customer in a Satwa internet café chats with family members in the Philippines using VoIP video conferencing technology.
Gulf News

Dubai: Most days, Basheer Ahmad can be found at an internet cafe in Satwa. This 60 year old Pakistani national lives alone in Dubai, which he has called home for the past 32 years. His entire family moved back in Pakistan, after the cost of living in Dubai became too expensive.

For years, Ahmad says they had to rely on conventional modes of communication, such as telephone calls, letters and then emails. However, it was not until innovations such as Skype, that the family was able to see and speak to each other every day.

"Because my salary is quite low, I found that I could no longer keep my family here in the UAE," he told Gulf News. "But, after I learnt about the online telephone services, I have been able to keep in contact with my family.

"It is a perfect way for me to be able to see and talk to them at the same time. I imagine that they are here with me."

Video link-up

Sitting at the internet cafe with his eldest son, who is in the UAE for a visit, Ahmad chats away to his wife, whom he can see via video link-up. He says he was introduced to the service by a friend, and has been using it every day since.

"My family used to live here, but I had to send them back. Talking on the phone is also too costly and does not allow you to actually see your family. Being able to speak to them every day has made me very happy."

Not so long ago, throughout the UAE, cheap and even free calls were being made via the internet. Then, gradually, access to the sites became sporadic and the 'Site Blocked' message began to pop up more frequently.

Now, access to most Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services provided by companies such as Skype, are blocked in areas in the UAE and residents and business people have lambasted the loss of a service that has helped to connect people worldwide.

Frequent UAE-based internet users have expressed anger and disappointment over the tightening of VoIP restrictions.

"Particularly as an expatriate the service is really invaluable. It is a very easy mode of communication, which I used for business as well," said David Foster, a Canadian, Dubai-based business analyst.

"In the last three weeks I haven't been able to access Skype at all, and prior to that I could only do so every three to four days, but even then it was very sporadic."

'Put the clock back'

Foster says that the ban has "put back the clock on globalisation," as the service had enabled companies to work in-sync with other country offices through the use of VoIP services.

"This technology has, in a sense, shrunk the world, it feels as though you are all in the same office, although you are scattered around the globe. The service enabled us to be more dynamic, faster and more responsive. The ban does not mesh well with the overall stated goals of the UAE."

According to Dubai-based VoIP consultant Reza Mamati, confusion also exists about the reasons behind the ban, which he describes as "very negative."

"It is fine if the authorities gave us a straight answer about whether it is available or not, and if not why not, rather than giving mixed-signals about access in some areas such as the free-zones," he said. "The internet should be open for all services."

Mamati says that VoIP has developed into more than just cheap calls and is "the way of the future.

"VoIP makes the world smaller. When you have multiple offices worldwide, it gives portability to business-people and is cost effective.

"It has really changed the way people communicate, and it is fair to say that, here the last thing we expected was such a ban."

Your comments

Why can't etisalat explain the blocking of VoIP? Are they hiding something or afraid of losing a profit for international call? People will still find a way how to access it again. There is a saying "If they close a door the other door will open." The cyberspace is as the universe.....INFINITE!

Banning of VoIP should be seen in broader perspective the way Dubai is moving. They have already driven out middle classes from Dubai to Sharjah and Ajman. This could be part of the next step to drive middle and low income workers out of country. If one can not afford to keeep in touch with his dear ones, for whome he is taking all the pain. People will have no choice but leave the country and move to a more sane place.

It's an open cheating as early this year etisaalat offered internet to home users at a low price including free subscription and first month free etc. A large numbers of residence subscribed only for voice chat to stay in touch with their families back home and then etisalaat take this unacceptable step. The ugly part is that etisalaat took out a years contract with each subscriber. I call it open cheating.

Etisalat cannot beat technology. very soon there will be a solution to make these calls again. Moreover there is a simple solution. Cancel your Etisalat broadband subscription.

Etisalaat wants to earn money through telephone exchange instead of allowing cheap communication and improving the country. All developed countries like the USA, UK and developing country like India have reduced telephone charges. Reducing telephone charges improves business and developes the country. Communication is the backbone of a country's developement.

My mum was ill and suffered from a stroke. Because of the Yahoo PC to phone facility I could talk to her everyday paying very little. This put my mind and ease and she was happy too. Now that etisalat has blocked the yahoo PC to phone facility it has only made life more difficult and added to my expenses.

VoIP is such an essential service required by a nation like UAE which has abundant expat population. Banning such service will not help Etisalat gain a big deal. On the contrary it creates misery to people out here who want to be in touch with loved ones.
Abu Dhabi,UAE

Am totally shocked that etisalat are blocking Yahoo messenger.

Etisalt uses VoIP during the offpeak hours for international calls and charges us very high rates. When they can use this service, why not us?

VoIP is an essential service required by a nation like the UAE which has an abundant expat population. Banning this service will not help Etisalat to gain a big deal.
Abu Dhabi,UAE

This move does not bode well for the 'advanced' image that the country is trying to build. The traffic situation and the sky high living costs have already made a serious dent on this. Now this move makes it feel like we are in a primitive country. My colleagues in our overseas offices now pity us who work in the Dubai office! Even a country like India which doesn't have the oil wealth does not restrict VoIP.

International calls in the UAE cost double the price in India. So when a cheap mode of communication like VoIP is banned, it is better we ask our families back home to call us and we transfer them the telephone bill.

You must see the communication service in India- it's par excellence and costs so less than UAE and we have VoIP there without any problem at all. Because of competition, Indians have acess to all very inexpensive and varied kind of communications. As long as etisalat is the sole monopoly, UAE will lag behind in technology and customer service. etisalat is shortsighted in blocking VoIP. It is going to hurt the nation.

The blocking is relatively more serious toward Skype because Skype VoIP traffic in particular is encrypted and undetectable. Therefore, it poses national security concerns (especially to the West). So, this move could have been dictated by the US or UK governments. People will find ways to use VoIP regardless of how much blocking etisalat imposes and internet technology will evolve as it always has. Calling VoIP illegal is ludicrous. Many web sites offer solutions to accessing skype and those are also being blocked by etisalat.

Unfortunately, I don't think the current VoIP ban will change until etisalat has some competition. If they want control, why don't they launch their own VoIP?

As I see it, the blockade of VOIP is not a single incident in the GCC. If you look from a more MACRO point of view, it is the general trend prevailing in this part of the world to exploit expatriates.

This is the most insane action ever taken. Where has the freedom of people who could connect and talk via programs like Yahoo, MSN or Skype gone?? This is no way to promote a new service. It clearly reaveals that every step in this country requires a payment or a fee.

Well Done!!! There is reason for this to be blocked other than revenue. Simple economics that the local phone companies are missing out on international call revenue.

The blocking of VoIP is completely unethical. As far as I can see the reason behind this is nothing but to maximise the profits of the telecom companies. Blocking VoIP and for that matter the interent, paints a different picture of the now globalising UAE. The fear that any new rule may be imposed curbing the rights of the people particulary expats looms large still in the UAE.

VoIP cannot be blocked for long. It's futile to ignore it. Instead, etisalat need to learn how to leverage it in its favor.

This is another example of monopoly of services in this country. Residents are derived of another excellent service and made to suffer. Such kind of monopolies should be halted soon.

I disagree with the blocking of VoIP which really hurts low wage people. Recently I have seen myself in a labour camp where labours who earn between 400 - 600 wait for the turn to call their parents / wife / children for cheap rates.
Abu Dhabi,UAE

My children and I lived in Dubai for one year with my husband but the cost increase in rent and schools drove us back to Canada. My husband had to stay behind and now lives alone. We used to use Vonage (VoIP) system to communicate with our families and friends here in Canada but this was also blocked in the UAE around early spring of this year. It is very costly to keep in touch and I hope that the authorities can re-think this blockage. We don't mind paying a small fee for any VoIP system as long as it is significantly less expensive than the current overseas telephone charges that we have to incur.

Please let us also live here. When the cost of living was increased, we supported you by sending our families back to our home countries, now it's your turn Dubai, to support us by allowing us to stay connected. Please hear this voice. This is common man's necesity.

We must thank etisalat for providing us with "state-of-the-art" services thus far. But now they must "move with the times". Introduction of Blackberry services for ALL is a first step. Introduction of VoIP for all is another. We've paid high call charges for too long - its time for etisalat now to make the VoIP service available to all (although this entails a reduction in their call charge revenues). Etisalat rates (peak and off peak) are very high compared to similar charges worldwide.
Satish Kelkar

I have noticed that the VoIP isn't working any more and it's a sad story to say. We are used to comunicating with our business partners through this service and now it has become a nightmare. We say the UAE is advanced but what I don't understand is why they would block VoIP when there are so many other thing that they should concentrate of removing.

When a country like the UAE blocks people from using advanced technology like VoIP, it is not at all a good gesture. I got more idea about VoIP from GITEX-2005. Companies were giving calling cards as complement for visitors of their stall. Why are authorities allowing such items/products to be displayed in GITEX stalls and later TRA is imposing ban on such advanced technologies?

Although Etisalat is making huge profit from normal telephone services, now they are pickpocketing users of VoIP. Can Etisalat tell the people why they have banned it? Dubai is a booming nation, so it has to end the monopoly of Etisalat. Instead of blocking VoIP they have to block the some x rated satelites which come directly to your living room.

I think it should be permitted. It's just helping people get closer to family and friends. What's wrong with it! Maybe the telecom company cannot afford to loose a buck, but blocking such usefull sites is hampers the development and advancement of the country.

Etisalat should explain why they are blocking the use of VoIP. Voice chating is the cheapest way of communicating to our loved ones.

It's not acceptable. I used to chat with my dad and mum twice a week, but cannot do it now. I can't understand the reason why they would block such a service on the net.

I don't think the scope of this action is as simple as the public see it. Authorities are creating a hard situation for low and middle class people to survive here. It could be part of an even bigger decision. In case of blocking VoIP, I went back to the old style. I canceled my Alshaamil and use my company's internet connection to send/receive emails. I don't use the telephone much as it's expensive for me.

Dubai will not go forward for a better future, it is going backwards to the STONEAGE world. If they refuse to provide modern technology to their country's people, then everything will collapse.