VOIP in the UAE

Further to yesterday’s post on Uber, there’s an interesting analogy with governments banning the service: the UAE government’s ban on VOIP calls.

The reason for this ban is succinctly explained in a comment on this forum:

In Dubai there are only two telecom service providers which are Du and Etisalat, Du has monopoly in Dubai and Etisalat has monopoly in Abu Dhabi, both of these service providers managed to convince government to stop Skype,facetime and whatsapp calling giving security reasons but in actual these service providers want to mint money because in UAE around 80% population is expat so they need ISD service and if these services can be availed through internet then these telecom providers would not be able to mint money.

In Simple terms to mint money they banned these services.

Naturally, as the commenter above says, the UAE government cited security concerns as a justification for the ban, claiming the VOIP services provided by the likes of Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime are not “secure” and don’t comply with the national telecoms regulations. This is why when you buy an Apple product in the UAE it doesn’t have the Facetime app loaded and it’s not accessible from the Apple store. I don’t know how they block users who already have it loaded, but they managed to block Skype over the fixed-line connections by detecting when it was in use. Most people I knew who lived there simply signed up to a VPN which bypassed all these restrictions.

As far as I can tell the ban is still in place but it’s becoming increasingly embarrassing for a country that is trying to present itself as ultra-modern and forward-thinking:

Internet restrictions in the UAE, especially banning video and voice calling through social networks such as Snapchat and Whatsapp has not only reportedly angered users living across the country, but also pushed Saeed Al Remeithi, the UAE Federal National Council’s (FNC) youngest member to query the country’s internet restrictions.

Remeithi voiced his opinion openly during an FNC session yesterday, saying that the UAE representatives were “embarrassed in the international federation by this issue,” citing the United Nations declaration that internet use is a human right.

However, Hamad Al Mansouri, the head of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority attributed these restrictions to state security and cyber-terrorism concerns saying: “The security factor is important in the country. If we neglect it, online calling will impose risks.”

And put a huge dent in the revenues of those with vested interests in the status quo, much like taxi drivers the world over.

12 thoughts on “VOIP in the UAE

  1. The original skype was very hard (not quite impossible but close) to block. Sadly after being taken over by microsoft (or possibly ebay, I forget exactly when) they modified the algorithm used to find supernodes and essentially fixed all the supernodes in (now) microsoft data centres so it’s a doddle to block.

    What an ineffective block like this does is normalize potentially criminal behavior such as anonymous VPN usage so that the police/security services can’t tell if the person using the VPN is just skyping a friend or viewing kiddie pr0n (or plotting a terror attack).

    Note there’s nothing criminal in VPN usage per se, but in a country where there’s freedom of access to the internet for any application anywhere there’s a lot less incentive to use a VPN unless you’re doing something a bit suspicious. If I were a security service I’d want to make VPNs (or usage of TOR etc.) unnecessary for the vast majority of my user base so that I could use VPN usage as an initial part of my profiling for people to look for.

  2. Sadly after being taken over by microsoft (or possibly ebay, I forget exactly when) they modified the algorithm used to find supernodes and essentially fixed all the supernodes in (now) microsoft data centres so it’s a doddle to block.

    Microsoft took them over, just as WhatsApp and Facetime came along. As could have been expected, Skype went rapidly downhill thereafter.

  3. Something similar happened when large corporates started buying T1 links between their offices; they could route voice calls across them.

    Of course, if they set up an access in and out option, people could dial into the office from home, across the international link and put into the public network in the destination office. I seem to recall this being illegal in some countries to protect their monopoly telcos, but how would the authorities ever know?

  4. Something similar happened when large corporates started buying T1 links between their offices; they could route voice calls across them.

    Our entire organisation – which is massive – works like this. It’s why when I was in Nigeria I was rather surprised to find I had free international calls from the phone installed in my company-supplied apartment.

  5. “Our entire organisation – which is massive – works like this. It’s why when I was in Nigeria I was rather surprised to find I had free international calls from the phone installed in my company-supplied apartment.”

    Capitalism is like nature, it finds the cracks in the concrete.

    To your original point, the countries/cities blocking these advantages for the consumer will eventually be beaten by the market or lose in some other way.

    Without being overly ideological, Free market capitalism is the only proven way to raise people out of dire poverty and the tyranny of concentrations of power. These little examples are great illustrations of how.

  6. Hello TNA, on the subject of demand finding the key, I have been thinking about that drone delivery method of yours a bit further.

  7. “Hello TNA, on the subject of demand finding the key, I have been thinking about that drone delivery method of yours a bit further.”

    When is the first delivery arriving and can I pop round?

  8. It is best that we never meet and you will get looked after. The Miami boat purchase fell through and I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on the mini-boat specification?

  9. “The Miami boat purchase fell through and I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on the mini-boat specification.”

    Use an Optimist. Car batteries, solar panels, an old android phone with a little home programming, small servo motors to trim the sails.

    I’ll have a kilo of Bolivian nose talc as commission, ta.

  10. Thank you for your offer which is accepted, although we would like to discuss a slight modification to the consideration and payment terms, as follows:

    1. Keys to a new Aston Martin with your options – on delivery

    2. You “buy” the vehicle of me at market value and I refund you 50% of the purchase price 30 days after completion of Milestone 1.

    There is a problem though. The backers looked at your little matchbox kit and told me to tel you that”
    “you are dreaming if you think we are going to put such a high value payload in that bobbing piece of cork”

    I am still struggling with it as well. If we could get over the range limitation wouldn’t you consider this?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vGd1Oy7Cw0&t=200s

  11. I think you’re missing the point of the business case; we’re balancing risk of detection with the arbitrage between buy and sell price.

    The plan is to have multiple matchboxes floating off with smallish payloads. Only one needs to get through to make the business case work.

    Think Nigerian email scams.

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