WhatsApp logo is displayed on a smartphone. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It's a case of on again, off again. Only a few hours after mobile phone users rejoiced over the unblocking of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) functions in the UAE on Thursday, the government seemed to have again restricted the use of WhatsApp’s voice and video-calling services.

As of 1:40pm, residents in the UAE experienced intermittent VoIP access, with some users saying they were no longer able to place video and voice calls using the instant messaging app.

This, after the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced that its policy on VoIP still stands. A telecom operator in the UAE also later confirmed that the voice and video-calling feature on WhatsApp remains blocked.

"I was able to access it this morning without any issues. Now, sometimes I can connect, sometimes I don't. The connection seems unstable," said one user who tested WhatsApp's video-calling service at 5:30pm.

WhatsApp video and voice calls went live in the UAE — quietly and no fanfare or official announcement — to the pleasant surprise of mobile phone users in the country early Thursday morning.

Many confirmed to Gulf News they can now use the features on the popular instant messaging app when connected to mobile roaming or WiFi network.

Users reported they could place calls using du or Etisalat networks within the UAE and abroad. Gulf News confirmed that WhatApp voice and video calls are now working, though the clarity depends on data speed.

“The voice and the video are both clear from my end,” said one expatriate in Dubai who stumbled upon the new feature on Thursday.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) later said in a statement "there is no change in the UAE's policy on voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services".

The statement added: TRA reconfirms that any applications or services of this nature must be subject to the regulatory framework in force in the country."

A source quoted by Emarat Al Youm newspaper also said that the activation of video and voice calls was due to a global update last night on WhatsApp.

The source said that Etisalat and du will resume the ban later in the day, in compliance with the instructions issued by the TRA. 

An official source at du told Gulf News  that the company "confirms its commitment to the laws and regulations governing the telecommunications sector in the UAE, and covering voice and video over IP, as aligned with the [TRA] of the the UAE."

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Surprise

“What a surprise. I am so happy that I can now make free calls and video chats on Whatsapp. I thought this was banned in UAE. I hope the telecom operators will not discontinue this,” said Rachel, another expat from the Philippines, who received a video call from a colleague around 9am.

Last November 2016, WhatsApp officially rolled out the video-calling service, but mobile phone users in UAE could not access the service due to regulatory compliance.

“Voice calls through WhatsApp are blocked in compliance with the UAE’s telecommunication regulations that allow VoIP services  to be provided in the country only by licensed telecom operators,” du said in a statement in 2015.

No official comment from du or Etisalat was immediately available, but residents in the UAE continued to benefit from the unblocked VoiP services late Thursday, with many taking to Twitter to express their excitement.

According to the WhatsApp website, the calling feature can be used on Android, iPhone, Windows phone and BlackBerry 10. Callers don’t consume call minutes to access the service, but data charges may apply.

To make a call, click open the chat with the friend or relative you want to contact and tap the phone icon at the top of the screen.

Video calls are available to subscribers who are on Android 0S 4.1+. Video calling may not be accessible if the operating system on your device is not supported.

To make a video call, open the chat with the WhatsApp user you wish to contact and tap the video icon.

The voice and video quality, however, will depend on the quality of network connection.