The recent blocking of video calling apps like Skype is affecting many students in AUD. In December 2017, du and Etisalat confirmed on Twitter that Skype was not working in the UAE because it was not authorised for making VoIP calls. VoIP technology is used by many video and voice calling apps like FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, Duo and Viber.
For a large number of students living in the AUD dormitories, these video calling apps are the primary method of communicating with their families. Zakaria Noubli, Computer Science Engineering senior from Algeria, says, “I use Skype to call my family every night. My family prefers using Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber for video calls, but none of those work in the dorms. So I got my family to install Skype to talk with me. However, Skype calls do not work properly all the time, and calls often get interrupted or disconnected. Last month, it stopped working altogether for a whole week”.
When video calling apps do not work, students naturally resort to making traditional phone calls, which can be as expensive as 1.5 to 2 AED per minute. Zakaria adds, “I have heard of an official video calling app for UAE called Botim, but you have to pay for it, so I don’t use it”. Hatem Gad, a second year Journalism student who also lives in the dorms, says, “I used to use Skype every day to talk to my family in Egypt, but it stopped working about 3 months ago,” Ever since, he got used to making international phone calls instead which cost him “an additional 200 dirhams per month”.
However, some students have managed to find alternative solutions. Mamoon Khan, a senior year Finance student from Pakistan, says, “Around November 2017, Skype calling stopped working for me. But I have since switched to using Facebook Messenger and now I am able to make video calls every day again. However, there is a different problem: the Wi-Fi in AUD is quite slow, and therefore, the calls are not always smooth. The Wi-Fi is good in the library, but it is not a convenient place to talk on the phone”.
There has long been conflicting information on whether Skype and other similar apps are legal to use in the UAE or not. In April 2013, Skype was unblocked for the first time by Etisalat, but it remained blocked on du. In a Gulf News article in the same month, the head of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said that “There is no restriction in Skype services in the UAE, but the service must be provided by one of the telecom service providers in the UAE and not through a third party”.
During the period from April 2013 to November 2017, people in UAE could make Skype to Skype voice or video calls for free, and also Skype to foreign mobiles and landlines at a much lower rate than calling directly through their du or Etisalat mobile.
In a country where more than 2/3rd of the population is foreigners, the inability to use video calling apps is understandably an inconvenience to many. This is especially true for AUD students in the dorms, many of whom are living alone, away from their family, for the first time in life.
First image taken from https://netmag.pk/skype-blocked-uae-alternatives/
Second image (infographic) made by me