Speaking about the restriction, Mohamed Al Ghanim, the TRA’s Director General said, “It is purely a licensing matter.”
When asked when the TRA will allow VoIP services, citing Skype as an example, Al Ghanim tweeted the following in response:
— TRA UAE (@TheUAETRA) April 18, 2012
Despite the official ban in the UAE, actual measures consist only of restricting access to the Skype website. Gaining access to Skype’s VoIP features is a simple as downloading the app using a proxy, as the service itself is not restricted.
While no official statement has ever been made as to why the Skype website has been blocked in the UAE, one of the common assumptions is that it simply comes down to money.
While monitoring or blocking services in the Middle East is more often an attempt to crack down on political activism, as was the case with Bambuser in Syria and Twitter and Facebook in Egypt, in the UAE, it would appear that the Skype ban has more to do with dollars and cents.
In fact, last June, the TRA left the Skype ban up to the country’s two operators, Etisalat and du, according to The National, saying, “The licensees [Etisalat and du] will have the right to block [VoIP] traffic,” adding, “The TRA does not mandate the licensees to exercise this right.”
Etisalat to launch its own VoIP services
UAE based telecom provider Etisalat has also announced that it will be offering access to VoIP phone calls, in an attempt to lure customers away from Skype, and other similar services.
Gulf News points to a launch date in the second quarter of 2012, although the service was discussed as early as 2010, when the initial ban was put in place.
At the time, there was talk of Skype entering an agreement with local telecom providers, and then Skype CEO John Silverman said, “I personally feel it’s quite short-sighted of the government. We are always open to discussions. The Middle East is important for Skype. We know they want to use our software, and we want to help them”
A partnership with Skype was never realized, and Etisalat will now be going the route alone, although it is not clear what kind of pricing the UAE-based telecom operator has in mind.
Additionally, pricing will have to be approved by the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), a factor which Etisalat has blamed for delays.
With the TRA approving local operator Etisalat’s prices, the same restrictions would undoubtedly be applied to Skype, and while the UAE government may welcome a licensing agreement, it is possible that Skype itself won’t accept interference in its prices.