x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Middle East telecoms firms may put Skype on mobiles

Internet telephone firm reveals it is in talks with region's mobile phone operators.

DOHA // Skype is talking to telecommunications operators in the Middle East about putting its internet telephone software on the region's mobile phones, the head of the company's Middle East operations says. "We do work with [telecoms companies] to drive new revenue streams and we think we can do the same thing in the Middle East," Rouzbeh Pasha, the head of Skype for the Middle East and Africa, said on the sidelines of a telecoms finance conference.

"This is what we're communicating to them that we can work together and 'future-proof' their business model." Mr Pasha declined to comment on the specifics on any negotiations. "We're in different phases of how close we have got to a final [deal], but I do see that this is going in the right direction." Skype is the world's most popular voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service with more than 560 million subscribers. It accounted for 12 per cent of all international calls last year and its growing popularity is a concern to operators around the world.

Deciding that it is better to work with Skype than against it, mobile operators such as Verizon in the US and 3 in the UK have opted to install Skype on mobiles. Skype argues that profits from subscribers using services such as VoIP will more than offset the reduction in revenue for the operators from fewer international phone calls. "Innovation has forever changed the way we communicate," Mr Pasha said. "It's not about voice any more. A few years ago, you had a phone in your hand that specifically makes a voice call.

"Today that's different. Communication is done more through software." 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 banning it. But the door may be opening to Skype in the Emirates. Last week, Farid Faraidooni, the chief commercial officer for the UAE's second-largest operator du, said the company was set to release its own VoIP service next month and was in talks with Skype to introduce the software on to its phones.

Etisalat has said it would introduce "innovative technologies" such as VoIP soon. Last month, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) gave its approval for local operators to provide VoIP, while maintaining a ban on internet telephone services such as Skype. But the TRA allows du and Etisalat to install applications such as Skype on their devices. Skype also is looking to set up a permanent office in the Gulf to lobby telecoms regulators and negotiate with regional operators. It expects to announce its regional plans next month, Mr Pasha said.

"We view the Middle East as an emerging market with good [technology] infrastructure," he said. "Internet penetration is high. "People have the ability to buy good computers and, therefore, they're in a very good position to use online services to communicate." dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae