x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Video calls coming in the UAE, at a price

Gitex 2011: Skype-like services are coming to the UAE as the nation's two operators look at launching similar services.

Maha Muraish, the director of online channels and portals at Etisalat, explains the ePlus app at Gitex. Antonie Robertson/The National
Maha Muraish, the director of online channels and portals at Etisalat, explains the ePlus app at Gitex. Antonie Robertson/The National

The UAE's two telecommunications operators are gearing to launch services similar to Skype amid rapidly declining revenues from voice calls.

Etisalat yesterday said it had developed a mobile application that allows UAE residents to make cheap national and international calls via their mobile phones.

The ePlus app will be one of the first legal uses of voice over internet protocol (Voip) services in the UAE.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, yesterday made the first call on the ePlus service during the opening day of Gitex Technology Week.

Etisalat said ePlus would allow subscribers to make high-quality video and voice calls, as well as access social networking sites and download games and music.

The application will initially be available on Android mobile handsets, with other operating systems added in the future. Services such as Skype, which use Voip technology to allow users to chat for free between computers and make very cheap international calls to phones, are banned in the UAE.

Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, the group chief executive at Etisalat, said the ePlus app would offer "local as well as international" calls, but said the service was still subject to the approval of the telecoms regulator.

A preview of the service demonstrated an option to make "budget" calls, and Mr Julfar said the service would not be free.

"There is no free lunch," he said. "We have not set the prices yet.

"Voice in general is becoming a commodity. From the conventional way, voice revenue is decreasing. So we have to come up with innovative services to compensate some of this downside."

Osman Sultan, the chief executive of the rival telecommunications firm du, said his company was also looking at new Voip technologies.

"We are working on that as well," he said. "It's more and more apps-based now."

Mr Sultan said many of the telephone calls handled by du were already routed over the internet.

He said du would not launch a service that allowed users to make free calls, but said the company would like to "bundle" certain telecoms services together.

Mr Sultan acknowledged Voip services posed a threat to the revenues of traditional telecoms operators.

"International revenues are under pressure everywhere in the world, because of the voice over internet," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae