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| 14 September, 2017

Saudi Arabia to lift ban on voice, video calls; will UAE follow?

Saudi to unblock VoIP calls in one week.

Saudi to unblock VoIP calls in one week.

The Saudi Arabian Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Abdullah Al-Sawah, on Wednesday, announced that the ban on Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calls will be lifted in Saudi Arabia within a week - by next Wednesday, Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday. In a series of tweets the minister announced that the ban will be lifted in cooperation with telecom partners:

"In cooperation with our telecom partners and in line with our #customer_first policy, we have called for the lifting of call blocking within a week ... and we still strive for more," Al Sawah said on his official account on the social networking site Twitter.

"@CITC_SA will oversee the review of regulatory compliance requirements and will work with telecommunications companies to enable the lifting, in compliance with requirements." Al Sawah added that authority and telecom services providers in the kingdom were coordinating to unblock VoIP service to their customers - Saudi citizens or residents - to make use of the applications that support voice and video calls.

He explained that applications that support VoIP option, video and voice calling over the internet, will start working.

The bodies cooperating with the decision emphasised that they will enable everybody to use the VoIP supported applications to make voice and video calls at high quality.

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The decision is in line with the objectives of the Kingdom's vision 2030

Will UAE consider unblocking VoIP calls too?

Earlier in June, it was almost like a WhatsApp dream come true for UAE residents when the blocked free call feature was enabled on the Instant messaging service. But the euphoria was short-lived as the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) was quick to clarify that there was no change in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) policy in the country.

TRA said in the statement that any applications or services of this type must comply with the applicable regulatory framework in the country.

Before the official clarification that the voice and video calls are not enabled in the country, Social media was abuzz with the 'Finally!! WhatsApp Calling is Unblocked" news.

The blocking of free calling service is a debated subject in the UAE with a Federal National Council member advocating for a lift in the restriction in the 2016 April session. Etisalat and Du, the two telecom companies in the UAE have also blocked the Snapchat's voice calling features last year when an upgrade of the app introduced the feature.

But TRA maintains that "VoIP services are still a prerogative of the licensed providers who reserve the right to provide such services through their networks. Companies wishing to offer such services must co-ordinate with the licensed telecom providers in the UAE".

Mohammed Mustafa Saidalavi, COO of Emirates Safer Internet Society said he would love to see a free quality tool where people can make free calls but "not at the cost of safety and security."

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