Thousands of iPhone users across the country are breaking the law by using Skype because the telecoms regulator has banned the popular free-calling software for Apple's hand-held devices. The ban, which the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) issued in 2006, remains in place even though the Skype application is freely available on Apple's iTunes store in the UAE and will work on iPhones connected to Etisalat or du services. The application has been available for download to iPhone and iPod Touch devices since last April.
The TRA has said: "If a third party application, such as Skype, is available for download from iTunes or any other website, it does not mean that it's legal to use. Furthermore, the licensees have the right to block the illegal traffic of the application." Access to the Skype website for downloading of the application to computers has been blocked by the TRA since 2006. The regulator says the software program provider is a telecoms operator and therefore needs a licence to carry phone calls in the UAE. Last month, Skype was updated to allow its users the ability to make calls over a 3G mobile network including those operated by Etisalat and du.
Rouzbeh Pasha, the head of Skype for the Middle East and Africa, said the only way the iPhone application would not be available in the UAE was if the regulator said no one in the country could have access to the iTunes store. "As long as the App Store is available, Skype and other applications will be there as well," Mr Pasha said. "This is part of the [Skype's] ecosystem. Soon you'll have Panasonic and Sony television sets that will have Skype built in."
The Emirates remains one of only four countries that do not allow Skype software to be downloaded and block access to the company's website. North Korea, Oman and Kuwait are the others. Lebanon is also considering a ban. The TRA says Etisalat and du "are required to block access to certain unacceptable content including unlicensed, and therefore illegal, VoIP services". Etisalat and du declined to comment.
Officials from du have previously said they were in discussions with Skype to use the application on du's devices. A representative from Skype said the company was in talks with "several Middle Eastern operators" about service. The research firm IDC said that 31,526 iPhones were sold in the UAE last year. Skype is expected soon to announce the opening of its first office in the Middle East, giving the company a permanent presence in the region and allowing it to lobby regulators and operators to allow its service to be used by their customers.