Dr. Aisha Butti Bin Bishr, Director General, Smart Dubai speaks at the Future Blockchain Summit at DWTC on 2nd of May 2018. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: The issue of Skype, and its legal status, has become a major talking point among the UAE’s residents since it went offline again last year.

This week, Dubai’s senior government official overseeing smart cities and new technologies called the situation “annoying,” and said she was hopeful that the ban would be lifted soon on the video and voice call chat application.

Aisha Butti Bin Bishr, director general of Smart Dubai, told Gulf News in an interview on Wednesday that Skype was “one of the essentials of life,” and it being banned, despite Dubai positioning itself as one of the most connected, technological cities in the world, was “annoying, for sure.”

“Not only [is it essential] for smart cities, but also for individuals,” she said.

Bin Bishr was speaking on the sidelines of the Future Blockchain Summit in Dubai.

Earlier in the week, Microsoft confirmed to Gulf News that it was in talks with the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to lift the ban on Skype.

Local Arabic newspaper Al Ittihad quoted Hamad Obaid Al Mansouri, director general of the TRA, as saying that the TRA was in talks with Microsoft and Apple regarding Skype and FaceTime (another video chat application, by Apple). He emphasised the need to maintain a strong relationship with the tech companies, at a time when their investments in the UAE are growing.

“We are working very closely with our telcos [du and etisalat] and the authorities, the regulators, to understand how to ease this component,” and very soon, Bin Bishr added, she hoped to have “good news.”

Preserve security

Services like Skype have had a fraught relationship with regulators in the UAE ever since their introduction, but the Microsoft-owned company has been completely throttled since last July, meaning calls can be made but often sound scrambled as internet providers restrict the necessary bandwidth for a clear call.

Analysts say that the ban on voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp likely stems from a desire to protect company revenues, and to preserve security.

Many of these applications use end-to-end encryption, meaning that only the devices sending and receiving communications in a conversation can hear or view them. This poses a concern to governments who may want access to such communications.

“We have been working closely with the local authorities towards gaining a better understanding of the local requirements in an effort to get Skype unblocked,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Gulf News on Monday.