Good news for internet users in UAE: Low-cost and free phone calls via Skype are now unblocked in this country.

Etisalat announced this news on its Facebook page, which means that UAE residents can also make free calls to other Skype users. Just like in other countries, calls to landlines and mobile phones are being charged through a user-account system.

As reported by The National, using Skype can save UAE residents a lot of money:

Skype pay-as-you-go calls to the UK cost 8.4 fils a minute compared with Dh 1.91 to Dh 2.69 on Etisalat. Calls to India cost about 34 fils on Skype and Dh 1.89 to Dh 2.40 on Etisalat.

Years-long Skype confusion

Etisalat and its rival du claimed that Skype was banned by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Whether Skype was categorised and banned as unlicensed VoIP remains unknown until this day. People could go to Skype’s website and use Skype-to-Skype calls over an Etisalat home broadband connection, however, calls on an Etisalat mobile internet connection and from a computer to a landline failed to connect.

When it comes to du, their subscribers have only recently started downloading and using Skype for Skype-to-Skype calls and to fixed phone lines.


Domino effect

After Skype, UAE residents are asking when they will be allowed to use other VoIP services such as Apple’s FaceTime or Viber. In theory, these services are governed by the same rules as Skype, however, they remain blocked by both Etisalat and du.

The remaining problem is that most internet users in UAE don’t have a choice between the two providers as services in most areas are provided only by one company or the other. Du and Etisalat have been negotiating “network” sharing for three years without any visible progress.

Network sharing

Network sharing is when the owner of the fixed line allows competing providers use the line at a certain cost. If network sharing becomes possible, genuine competition would be brought to the market which could mean lower costs in the future. So far, technical difficulties were given as a reason for the delay in negotiations.

But then in 2010, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said that both providers were “technically ready to open their fixed-line networks for competition” and in 2011, residents of the Burj Khalifa were among the first to choose. Unfortunately, users are still waiting even though the TRA said that “both Etisalat and Du are technically and operationally ready.”