Free WhatsApp voice calls activated for all UAE users - Emirates24|7

Free WhatsApp voice calls activated for all UAE users

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After weeks of now-on-now-off free WhatsApp voice calls, the mobile messaging app is finally offering free VoIP calls to all UAE Android users (and those in the rest of the world).

The Facebook-owned mobile messaging company had initially announced plans for the introduction of voice-calls back in February 2014, but then the lead went cold until almost a year.

The past couple of months, however, have been full of action with the feature starting to show up intermittently on random Android users’ apps across the world, including some in the UAE. It seemed those on Android platform and with the latest version of the app were in line for the functionality as it turned ‘contagious.’

Also read: How to get free WhatsApp voice calling on your UAE mobile: 2 easy steps

One simply had to be ‘invited’ by a person with the functionality – by receiving a voice call – to have their voice-calling unlocked, and that also gave them the power to further pass it on to others on their contact list.

Also read: WhatsApp free 'contagious' voice calling: UAE activated?

In a few days, though, that power to spread the functionality was withdrawn although those with the activated voice calling feature could still enjoy it.

As of yesterday, however, even those users who could not activate the function for love or money earlier are reporting that the calls icon has miraculously appeared on their apps, and they have confirmed making free WhatsApp voice-calls here in the UAE.

Also read: Free WhatsApp voice calling in UAE: Now, just one call needed to activate

Users can now see an extra tab beside ‘Contacts’ and ‘Chats’ called ‘Calls’.

Once you tap the little call icon at the top right-hand side, and you’ll be able to call your WhatsApp contacts. We conducted a few quick tests and the quality wasn’t good – but who’s complaining?

In any case, since WhatsApp is still to make an official announcement, it should ideally be working on improving the quality of the calls.

Even as the feature has rolled out on Android and BlackBerry, there are still no signs of it on the iOS devices – iPhone and iPad.

WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton last week confirmed though that iOS should get the functionality in a “couple of weeks” and then later changed that to “several weeks”.

In the UAE, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls are the legal domain of licensed telecom operators (etisalat and du).

In mid-March, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) issued a statement clarifying the policy about use of VoIP in the UAE.

“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,” the TRA said on March 16, 2015.

The TRA announced specifically in 2013 that the Telecommunications Law and the TRA’s VoIP regulatory policy “allows only the licensees (i.e. etisalat and du) to provide telecommunications services in the UAE including VoIP services.”

Also read: Free voice calls on WhatsApp: UAE impact?

While Skype’s text messaging is allowed in the country, its VoIP calls remain encrypted and barred. The TRA added in its statement that “this policy has not been amended” as a clarification to rumours that Skype VoIP calls were being made legal.

“As to what the licensees have done in unblocking Skype’s website in the UAE, this action does not change the position of the TRA or amend the policy as this service is considered a Regulated Activity, therefore, it must be provided by a licensee.

“Should the service be provided through a partnership with a third party, both licensees must seek approval to  provide such service after fulfilling the regulatory and technical requirements of the TRA, which has not happened in the case of Skype. VoIP services through Skype are still unauthorised,” TRA said.

It should be added that the same coordination apparently hasn’t happened in the case of WhatsApp too, and the app’s free voice call service is now under the scanner.

The TRA has, time and again, clarified the UAE’s VoIP policy, which it has often explained is that it remains restricted to licensed operators.

“We have recently seen local newspapers and social networks publishing news with regards to the ‘Viber’ service being blocked in the UAE. We would like to clarify that the service was never licensed in the UAE,” the TRA said in a statement in September 2014, when media speculation about the unscrambling of that service here in the country gained traction.

“Moreover, the VoIP regulatory policy has only licensed ‘etisalat’ and ‘du’ (the licensees) to provide telecommunication services in the UAE, including VoIP services. This policy still exists and has not been amended,” the TRA then added.

Also read: Free voice calls on WhatsApp: UAE impact?

While Skype’s text messaging is allowed in the country, its VoIP calls remain encrypted and barred. The TRA added in its statement that “this policy has not been amended” as a clarification to rumours that Skype VoIP calls were being made legal.

“As to what the licensees have done in unblocking Skype’s website in the UAE, this action does not change the position of the TRA or amend the policy as this service is considered a Regulated Activity, therefore, it must be provided by a licensee.

“Should the service be provided through a partnership with a third party, both licensees must seek approval to  provide such service after fulfilling the regulatory and technical requirements of the TRA, which has not happened in the case of Skype. VoIP services through Skype are still unauthorised,” TRA said.

It should be added that the same coordination apparently hasn’t happened in the case of WhatsApp too, and the app’s free voice call service is now under the scanner.

The TRA has, time and again, clarified the UAE’s VoIP policy, which it has often explained is that it remains restricted to licensed operators.

“We have recently seen local newspapers and social networks publishing news with regards to the ‘Viber’ service being blocked in the UAE. We would like to clarify that the service was never licensed in the UAE,” the TRA said in a statement in September 2014, when media speculation about the unscrambling of that service here in the country gained traction.

“Moreover, the VoIP regulatory policy has only licensed ‘etisalat’ and ‘du’ (the licensees) to provide telecommunication services in the UAE, including VoIP services. This policy still exists and has not been amended,” the TRA then added.

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