Enter any internet cafe around the world and you'll see someone hooking up a microphone to the computer; perhaps adjusting a video camera, too. Online telephony has become a hallmark of the communications revolution. But Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems, such as Skype, that communicate conversations as well as a user's image over the internet, have long posed a problem to telecoms companies. They're cheap to use and difficult to control. Free phone calls between computers, as well as cheaper calls to cell phones and land lines, have made such programmes increasingly popular as users have used them to avoid costly phone bills - especially when communicating across borders.
New legislation suggests that the UAE is beginning to be more open to this technology. As we report today, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has decided to allow companies to use VoIP as they partner with the UAE's telecoms firms. Programmes such as Skype may one day be offered by Etisalat or Du in the same way they are offered in Jordan or in many other countries around the world.
The TRA's decision is a small step in the right direction. To be competitive in a global marketplace, the telecoms industry must be responsive to consumer demand and technological innovation. Telecoms companies were once state-supported in Japan, the UK, and the United States. It is no coincidence that as the sector was privatised in these countries, it became far more innovative. When the free market calls, suppliers must answer - and not only for their customer's sake.