TRA announces revised VoIP policy for UAE

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Today the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in the UAE announced what they call a “new Voice Over Internet Protocol – VoIP policy.”

Widely expected to allow VoIP in the UAE but only to official telecom operators like du and Etisalat, the TRA delivered just that. They are indeed, in their own words, now opening up the UAE telecom sector a bit more than previously to VoIP but they’re doing so carefully in with small steps.

TRA is clearly positioning this as a work in progress with this being the first step in what seems likely to involve future developments. For a UAE market that has been asking for VoIP or a long time, this is good news that perhaps doesn’t go far enough to satisfy all interests.

TRA references the first VoIP policy from 2006, which had only allowed national calls and no exemption mechanisms, meaning it had to be applied equally to all entities and services.

The revised policy apparently addresses these two points. There are now two exemptions allowed. First, it’s what the TRA calls “closed group network”, which is basically national VoIP calls. Second, it’s “public interest purpose”, which would mean academic, educational and government organizations that run leased lines provided by the telcos being able to use VoIP for national and international traffic.

The basic thing to keep in mind here is that TRA sees VoIP as a telecommunications service and as such it requires a license. Therefore, any such service being used in the UAE without a license, like Skype, is illegal.

For example, if we focus on individuals, the revised policy still makes any VoIP for individuals illegal unless it’s provided by the licensees (basically du and Etisalat). That means that anyone today using something like Skype in the UAE will continue to be illegal under this revised framework.

TRA said they’re looking forward to what the licensees will come up with in terms of services. Keep in mind that even if licensees will start to provide VoIP, they have to comply to the provisions in the licensing framework. Customer may approach licensee directly for VoIP services but neither du nor Etisalat offers any VoIP service with international calling. TRA also said that licensees have the right to block illegal VoIP traffic and that any user using illegal VoIP is liable and can be pursued by the authorities under the law. Furthermore, TRA stated that operators (licensees) are already now scanning traffic for what seems to be VoIP traffic. The licensees and TRA work with the police for potential legal action.

Basically any company, like Skype for example, can ask for a license from the TRA. That part of the licensing framework is apparently being worked on still so TRA seems to say that instead they should approach one of the current licensees to form a partnership.

There is no pricing scheme for any aspect of VoIP from the TRA but it falls under the regulatory framework, which presumably means that TRA will if not have a final say at least a significant input into any packages and services offered and their prices.