Apparently, discussions are under way regarding the potential lifting of the ban on Skype and FaceTime in the UAE, something residents of the region will more than happy to learn. Right now, free VoIP services are not available to UAE residents and they are forced to use alternative services provided by telecom incumbents such as Etisalat. Officials claim an increasing number of people are using those services however their cost is simply prohibitive for many in the region.
Many countries have VoIP bans in place
The UAE is not the only country to restrict free VoIP services, many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa do the same and even China banned Skype at the end of last year. The reasons for doing so are not obvious. Usually the reason given is licensing, however it is more likely that governments are seeking to protect the income of state-controlled telecoms companies. Security is another issue because most services tend to use encryption which prevents governments from accessing data or monitoring conversations.
Security concerns are exaggerated
Despite the security concerns there are techniques governments can use to obtain access to encrypted data. As soon as the information is decrypted, the government can access it by running code on devices. Data can also be accessed before encryption takes place. It is highly likely that some service providers will have reached an agreement with various governments granting them access to data, though it is unlikely those agreements would ever be made public.
If governments are worried about the loss of income from free VoIP services it is possible for them to impose fees on people who use services such as Skype. Such an approach might be adopted in the UAE, however whilst it is possible to do this in theory, in practice it may be far more difficult to achieve. So far, no country has such a system in place because it requires installing invasive technology which would monitor what people are doing. Also, it would be quite complex because such fees would have to be levied across all services and that kind of complexity means it would cost a lot to implement.
Telecoms companies should focus on business customers
Incumbent telecoms providers should instead mitigate the loss by offering higher-quality internet telephone services aimed at companies. This kind of strategy is far more realistic than imposing charges on people using FaceTime or Skype. BT in the UK for example has been very successful in attracting businesses to its own VoIP service because it offers higher quality. If ordinary consumers wish to use lower quality free services, then they should be allowed to do so. Companies such as Etisalat should instead concentrate on generating monthly fees from internet use which would mitigate the loss that occurs from VoIP.