UAE telecoms operator Etisalat announced it will offer Internet-based phone calls by the end of the second quarter. The former monopoly is currently facing a stiff competition from Skype and other international providers.
Etisalat and rival du are the only licensed providers of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services – free Internet-to-Internet calls and cheap Internet-to-phone calls in the UAE. Skype, global market leader in IP telephony, is among the foreign VoIP providers that face an official ban.
According to a Reuters report, the telecom authority’s ban has failed to stop VoIP’s soaring use among the UAE’s population, four-fifths of whom are foreign. Smartphone apps help people use VoIP services on their smart phones or laptops. Internet cafes also have softwares like Skype, Fring, Viber etc. that help users make calls to phones at a fraction of the cost of conventional tariffs.
Etisalat’s customers are waiting since October last year when it unveiled plans to offer VoIP as part of its ePlus mobile platform. The packages advertised also included services like social networking, internet browsing and instant messaging.
Essa Haddad, Etisalat’s chief commercial officer, told Reuters they are talking about quarter two of 2012 when asked about the launch of international VoIP services.
The company’s CCO declined to give any tariffs of Etisalat’s upcoming VoIP calls.
“Any price change has to be [approved] by the regulator and that’s why it’s taking time because we need to get this finalised,” Haddad told Reuters.
Etisalat hopes its ePlus platform will boost customer loyalty and stem the flow of subscribers to its rival du, which has racked up an estimated 46% market share since launching services in 2007.
Etisalat, which operates in 17 markets around the world, has reported a decline in earnings in seven of the past eight quarters. Telecommunications analysts believe the popularity of du and increased use of VoIP are the key factors behind the dip.
According to a presentation to analysts, Etisalat received 74% of its revenue and 97% of net profit from the UAE last year.