Skype Ban Tightens in the UAE

Although Voice Over Internet Protocol services such as Skype, Viber and FaceTime have never been licensed in the UAE, the blocking of these ...

Feb 7, 2015

Although Voice Over Internet Protocol services such as Skype, Viber and FaceTime have never been licensed in the UAE, the blocking of these applications has slowly been coming into effect for over a year. An official clarification on the illegality of Viber and similar apps was announced in Sept. 2014, but the implementation has been uneven. Skype calls to landlines are currently not working, while computer-to-computer calls continue to work even though both services are illegal.
Skype’s website now confirms that the app is blocked in the UAE, while encouraging users to “speak to your [internet service provider] and ask why they are blocking Skype and request that they unblock our site and services.”
VoIP services are blocked in the UAE because only two operators, Etisalat and du, are licensed to provide telecommunication services in the UAE. According to Daniel Hanratty, Support Site Lead at NYUAD’s Campus Technology Center, both Etisalat and the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority seemed unclear about the policy until Sept. 2014.
“There’s no definitive time for how long [Skype] has been blocked, because for a while, Etisalat was saying it was the TRA that was blocking it and the TRA was saying that it was Etisalat blocking it,” said Hanratty. “They’ve been blaming each other for it.”
In response to past media attention about blocked Viber services last year, the TRA released a statement in Sept. 2014 to confirm the illegality of Viber and other VoIP services: “We have recently seen local newspapers and social networks publishing news with regards to the Viber service being blocked in the UAE. We would like to clarify that the service was never licensed in the UAE. Moreover, the VoIP regulatory policy has only licensed Etisalat and du, The Licensees, to provide telecommunication services in the UAE, including VoIP services. This policy still exists and has not been amended.”
“The clarification [on Skype’s ban] came out end of last year, but [blocking has] been happening on and off for a year or so now,” said Hanratty. “It would work, then it would stop working, then it would work.”
Senior Laura Evans commented that the ban on these low-cost VoIP apps seems unnecessary, especially given large demand from expatriates and migrant workers in the UAE.
NYUAD Professor of Biology Claude Desplan noted that Skype is useful for academic work as well as personal calls.
“We use extensively Skype for classes, especially when the video system of NYU does not function properly, which is quite often, and for lab [meetings] between people in NYC and people in [Abu Dhabi], at least once weekly,” wrote Deplan in an email to The Gazelle.
Etisalat has resisted the ban on Skype before, announcing on Twitter in April 2013 that the company had unblocked Skype, despite rival telecom operator du’s continued block. The tweet was taken down after about one week. Both telecom operators are based in the UAE, although Etisalat operates in 15 different countries and du only operates in the UAE and is owned in majority by UAE government institutions, including Mubadala Development Company and the TRA. Skype computer-to-landline calls were initially functioning on the Etisalat network after the April 2013 announcement, but are now effectively blocked.
In response to the TRA’s reinforcement of VoIP illegality in September 2014, Etisalat senior vice-president Abdulla Hashim placed the responsibility on the TRA, saying, “It’s not a telecom operator’s concern. This is something that can be addressed to them. We work with the laws [set] by TRA.”
It is unclear if Skype computer-to-computer calls will eventually be effectively blocked in the UAE as well. Apple apps such as FaceTime no longer come with Apple devices sold in the UAE. Users of the WhatsApp messaging service have noticed uneven functionality this month, amid WhatsApp’s plans to launch VoIP services. WhatsApp’s new free call services were rolled out in India early this month. Telecom operators in India are concerned about the new WhatsApp function, as the Cellular Operators Association of India also bans voice services that are unlicensed in India. WhatsApp has not announced when its VoIP service will be available in other countries.
Joey Bui is editor-in-chief. Email her at
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