Etisalat, Du block Snapchat voice, video calls; VPN illegal

The UAE’s telecom operators have blocked the recently introduced voice and video calling features on a popular social messaging app.

Snapchat 2.0, as the updated app is called, allows users to “start talking or video chatting instantly with one tap” once their friends show up on their chats.

The new features, however, stand in breach of the UAE’s VoIP regulations, which bar third-party providers from offering internet-based telephony services, be they voice or video calls.

Within a few days of the features being available on Snapchat 2.0, the UAE’s telecom operators have barred them.  


In a statement to Emirates 24|7 confirming the move, a spokesperson with the Dubai-based du said: “Companies wishing to provide [VoIP] services should coordinate with the UAE’s licensed service providers in this regard.”

In the UAE, the two telecom operators – Etisalat and du – are the licensees eligible to offer these services.

Etisalat echoed the sentiment in a statement sent to UAE Barq, highlighting that, as per the country’s telecom regulations, offering VoIP services is the prerogative of licensees, and others wishing to do so need to coordinate with the licensees.

In a statement to Emirates 24|7, the UAE’s Telecom Regulatory Authority had clarified the country’s stand on VoIP-based services last year.

While that statement was issued in the wake of a barring of WhatsApp voice calls, the TRA had clarified to this website that the policy “is applicable for any Voice Over service.”

The TRA’s statement said: “Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are considered part of the UAE’s regulated activities. The TRA has granted licensed operators the eligibility to provide such services across their networks. Companies wishing to provide such services should coordinate with the UAE’s licensed service providers in this regard.

“The TRA stressed on its role as the regulator in this context, especially in light of its devoted efforts towards upgrading the Information and Communication Technology infrastructure and laying the foundations for smart cities and smart government, as well as ensuring the UAE’s leading position on a global standard.”

Read: Free WhatsApp Voice Calls: UAE telecom operator blocks new feature

= Using VPN to access blocked services is illegal =

Even as the UAE’s TRA clearly states that accessing VoIP services other than those offered by the licensees is against the policies, some users continue to use the services of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to connect to blocked telecom services.

And while Operating a VPN is not in itself illegal in the UAE, using it to access banned services and/or content is not permissible.

“Tampering with the Internet network is a crime,” Colonel Saeed Al Hajri, Director of the Cyber Crimes Department at Dubai Police, said in March 2015.

Dubai Police had said last year that a suspect may be monitored for as long as three or four years if a complaint is filed or when identified.

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