There are few things more tempting than a cheap, or free, call home.
So it is no surprise that the popularity of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology, which allows users to make phone calls from their PCs, is booming in Dubai despite being blocked by regulatory authorities.
A local IT insider, who asked to remain anonymous, said it is relatively easy to circumvent because the blocks. Users are prevented from accessing VoIP web sites and from downloading or uploading their software.
However, once VoIP programs such as Skype orNet2Phone are installed they will work.
Usually calls between computers are free, while users pay fees far below standard rates for calls to land lines.
"You can go to stores in the computer district and buy the minutes, the only catch is that a person must already have the software downloaded from before," he said.
Those who live in areas serviced by Dubai Media City, like the new Dubai Marina, have yet another option their internet access is uncensored because of free zone status.
Despite the many ways around the barrier, some people would like to see the status quo change.
Recently, a reader contacted Gulf News and said his company had recently tried to get permission to run a VoIP service but was promptly turned down.
"Etisalat informed that it is not yet legalised in UAE, but we know of some companies or individuals from Canadaand the US are selling these minutes in Dubai and Sharjah without Etisalat's permission," he said.
A spokesman from Etisalat told Gulf News earlier that they are not blocking VoIP on a whim, but because it is currently illegal in the UAE.
"The Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE has stated that all use of voice over internet protocol telephony in the UAE is illegal," Etisalat officials said in a statement. "The TRA has instructed Etisalat to block all access to VoIP telephony.
However, Skype Journal, an independent online publication, thinks the ban on VoIP may stem from the programs' abiltiy to encrypt conversations, making it costly and difficult to record discussions or determine calling patterns.
Despite the loopholes in the TRA's policy, some people would like to see the policy changed.
"I don't think that the authorities have the right to block any of these sites," said the IT insider. "If Etisalat wants to compete they should lower their prices, not take out the competition."
He added that both the hardware and software that facilitate VoIP service can also be bought from international companies and shipped here without running into problems.
The reader who contacted Gulf News added that he feels the market demand can no longer be overlooked.
"[On] average, an eight line gateway can earn between $10,000 to $15,000 (Dh36,500 to Dh54,000) monthly. So calculate how much revenue Etisalat is losing. Why is Etisalat ignoring the people who are already running this business in the UAE and earning a lot of money?"