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Skype opens channels to the region's regulators

Skype plans to open its first office in the Gulf within months, as part of its effort to end the ban on the global internet telephone service in many parts of the region.

Skype plans to open its first office in the Gulf within months, as part of its effort to end the ban on the global internet telephone service in many parts of the region. Russ Shaw, the vice president of Skype for the Middle East and the general manager of its mobile division, said the office would allow the Luxembourg-based company to lobby regional governments more often, and to develop partnerships with telecommunications operators in the GCC.

"We opened our Arabic language website last November - but we thought another step forward for us was to have a physical presence in the region," said Mr Shaw on the final day of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Access to the Skype website is prohibited in the UAE, Oman and Kuwait by federal regulators. It is also blocked in North Korea, the only country in the world with an official policy to ban it. Mr Shaw said the company had not yet decided exactly where Skype would open its Gulf office, but the UAE was on the company's shortlist and he expected a choice to be made by the end of the next quarter.

During a panel discussion yesterday, Josh Silverman, the chief executive of Skype, said its effective banning in the UAE was "disappointing" and "short-sighted". "What we will find in the history of economics is that when a government acts to protect a legacy profit pool, it is not in the best interest of the economy or the people," Mr Silverman said. Telecoms operators in the Gulf have opposed allowing access to services such as Skype, Fring and Truphone because they do not want to lose revenues from international phone calls, which are highly lucrative for phone companies.

But Mr Silverman said allowing Skype would actually bring more revenue to telecoms operators. He said using such services required customers use more broadband services, which would provide higher margin revenue to operators than traditional international phone calls, he said. There was speculation at the summit that Skype executives were meeting with senior representatives of du and Etisalat yesterday.

But Raghu Venkataraman, the chief strategy and investments officer for du, denied such discussions had taken place. Mr Venkataraman said the company was looking to launch its own voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service in the UAE this year, but declined to offer details. "We can launch VoIP but we want to do it ourselves," he said. @Email:dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae

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