BARCELONA // Skype has partnered Qatar Telecom (Qtel) to provide access to the Qatari operator's wireless broadband unit, the first Middle East operator to strike a deal with the internet telephone service provider.
The deal is expected to provide access to Skype software for mobile broadband users in Jordan and the Philippines, where Qtel operates under the wi-tribe brand. It will also sell vouchers for Skype credits in wi-tribe's retail outlets in those countries.
Nasser Marafih, the group chief executive of Qtel, said the Skype service would soon be rolled out across the company's other units. Qtel has more than 68 million subscribers across 17 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
"We believe this is important to be at the leading edge of services available that add value to our customers," Mr Marafih said yesterday.
"We will start this with our wi-tribe operation … and we are in discussions to roll out these services in other markets within the Qtel group."
Russ Shaw, the vice president and general manager of mobile for Skype, said the relationship between Skype and the region's operators was "complementary, not competitive".
"There is an indisputable synergy between the two and the partnership with Qtel is further proof of this," said Mr Shaw.
Although he declined to comment on whether the deal with Qtel was an exclusive arrangement he said the operator's global reach was attractive to the company. He also declined to specify the financial agreement between the two companies.
This is Skype's first regional partnership deal since launching an office in Bahrain last year. The company has targeted the region as a key base to provide its long-distance internet telephone service to the Middle East's 1.2 billion population.
Skype is the largest provider of international phone calls, with 45 billion minutes placed last year, more than twice the volume added by all of the world's standard phone companies combined, according to data from TeleGeography, a telecoms research firm.
However, the UAE remains one of four countries in the world that do not allow its residents to download Skype or access the company's website.
Software applications such as Skype that use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology are illegal in the UAE unless they are sanctioned by a licensed operator, according to the national regulator. The prospects for introducing other forms of internet telephone services to the UAE remain strong, said Osman Sultan, the chief executive of du, the Emirate's second telecoms operator.
Mr Sultan said du expected to launch a formal internet telephony service of its own later this year.
Raghu Venkataraman, the chief strategy and investments officer at du, said the operator was capable of commercially providing VoIP services but what it was "looking at is the right frame for commercial partnerships".
"Skype, by itself, is rather limiting," Mr Venkataraman said. "If you look at the profile of traffic in and out of the UAE, it's not the obvious partner."