In an announcement on it’s Facebook page, Etisalat has revealed that it has unblocked Skype in the United Arab Emirates. Users had been denied access to Skype for several years.
However, the statement did not mention about the possibility of Skype-to-phone calls. Last week, Etisalat had announced unblocking access to Skype’s website via Twitter, but the tweet was then deleted. Residents in the UAE had been using Skype by downloading the software through virtual private networks, app stores or on visits abroad. Even though Skype-to-phone calls were usually blocked, the service could be used in UAE after installation.
Skype, is the world’s top internet-based phone call provider, is owned by Microsoft Corp and allows users to make free internet-to-internet phone calls and messaging. At the same time, its tariffs for internet-to-mobile or landline phone calls are much cheaper than other channels. By removing the ban on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers, such as Skype, the telecom operator may face a drop in its international call revenues as customers will switch to benefit from lower call rates. A Skype call from the UAE to the United States costs $0.019 per minute, while Etisalat charges callers $0.58 per minute peak and $0.37 per minute off-peak.
According to Matthew Reed, a principal analyst at Informa in Dubai; “It is becoming less sustainable to maintain restrictions on VoIP because the way people use communications is rapidly changing. So there is an argument that it’s better for operators to find a way to work with over-the-top internet players such as Skype, rather than forlornly trying to fight market trends.”
Major telecom operators are under tremendous pressure to maintain their international call and text revenues. With expatriates forming about 90 percent of the UAE’s population, these revenues are crucial to these operators. Instant messaging services like Whatsapp and BlackBerry Messenger are also providing stiff competition to telecom operators.