It has come to a point where Skype wouldn’t want to be regulated by the UAE government and couldn’t comply with the requirement. Hence, UAE took action
DUBAI: Skype is that app bridging the great divide between Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the UAE and their loved ones on the other side of the world.
This software, which has become a household name for obvious reasons, enables OFWs to see their relatives back home and talk to them in real time through laptops, smart phones and other gadgets by way of the internet – in other words, they’re up close together despite the over-7,200-kilometer distance.
Imagine then, the looks on their faces waking up one day to learn that Skype was no longer available in the UAE as access has been blocked the government’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
The TRA, apparently attempting to address the situation has rolled out alternative VoIP apps in the form of Botim and C’me, which can be obtained on monthly rates of Dhs50 and Dhs100.
Both Botim and C’Me can be downloaded on iOS and Android devices, and like Skype, both apps can connect with anyone in the world through instant messaging, voice call, and video chat.
Users can also, share photos and videos, record voice messages, and send files through Botim and C’Me.
Moreover, Botim also has a feature that can let you create a group chat with up to 500 members.
However, in order to use the two apps, a user will have to pay Etisalat’s or du’s Internet calling pack that costs Dh50 or Dh100.
The Dh50-pack will enable a subscriber to use the apps using his/her mobile data, while the Dh100-pack will enable a subscriber and all of his/her family members to use the app through their home WiFi.
Both Internet calling packs offer unlimited usage of Botim and C’Me
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bemoan the blocking of Skype’s services, which came almost simultaneously with the introduction of Value Added Tax, saying they are bracing themselves for what they described as a “year of increased cost of living” ahead.
Shirley Mae Zamora an architect, told The Filipino Times in a straw poll that while she is not an avid video call user, “it comes in handy really at times when you need to talk face-to-face with family back home.”
“Being able to see them anytime and having access to this kind of channel helps a lot when you are having a bout of homesickness. It is vital for an OFW’s peace of mind to see their loved ones safe and sound.
“Having no access to this facility makes it difficult to bridge the gap between families separated by distance. Other alternatives are offered but with additional fees, which will be an added burden while dealing with the transition caused by VAT,” she said.
Still, others are weighing the cost between subscribing with the authorized VoIPs and going back to using phone cards.
“This means less communication with my family and higher telephone charges,” they said.
A TFT online post about the BOTIM and C’me offer had a lengthy comment thread mostly from OFWs, especially those making in the range of Dhs2,000 to DFhs3,000 a month, lamenting that they now would have to be stricter with their finances. .
“Gastos na naman, may VAT na nga,” said one OFW, Gian Adbauter, in his post on the comment thread.
Others claimed BOTIM and C’me were not even available in the Philippines.
‘Waiting to happen’
“Ever since, talagang may TRA regulation na that says only licensed providers can operate, but in strict compliance with the regulatory framework,” said Irene Corpuz, TFT Awards 2016 IT Professional of the Year, citing provisions of TRA’s policy towards Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), the technology behind the “up-close-and personal-despite-the-distance” experience.
“I think it has come to a point where Skype wouldn’t want to be regulated by the UAE government and couldn’t comply with the requirement. Hence, UAE took action,” she added.
Corpuz, head of information security at an Abu Dhabi government entity, was referring to subsection 4.1 of TRA’s regulatory policy, which requires any company providing VoIP services to be licensed and to operate “strictly in accordance with the regulatory framework” of the government.
‘Grey area not allowed elsewhere’
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in Subsection 3.1 of its VoIP regulatory policy that it does not intend to issue new licenses; and in Subsection 3.2, that licensed telecommunications companies – du and Etisalat – are “entitled” to block VoIP services of an unlicensed firm operating within their network “unless instructed by TRA to do otherwise.”
Skype, by virtue of these regulatory provisions, is an outsider and, ironically, a key player as well.
Explains Zenaida Carlos, an OFW who has years of experience working in two of the Philippines’ major telecommunications companies – Globe Eastern Telecom and Bayantel: “Skype is a grey area, maski sa Pilipinas. Hindi sya allowed talaga kasi mawawalan ng kita ang mga telcos.” (Skype is a grey area even in the Philippines. It is not allowed because telecommunications companies will not make profit).
She added, “Kasi hindi na gumagamit ng regular overseas phone calls ang mga tao dahil sa Skype; lugi sila.” (People are no longer making regular overseas phone calls because of Skype; and so Etisalat and du are losing money).
Hence, the mentioned TRA provisions were invoked and Skype access was blocked, followed by the announcement about BOTIM and C’me.
Ronald Precilla, IT manager and lead security architect at a major Abu Dhabi Bank, said Etisalat and du got themselves a “win-win” situation with Skype blocked and the alternative VoIP providers rolled out.
“There was a decline in the international calling business and having alternative solutions within the TRA framework like BOTIM and C’me would be a win-win situation,” he said.
Ronald Precilla, TFT Awards 2017 IT Professional of the Year, for his part said Skype had actually been restricted twice by the UAE government in the past but was eventually allowed to resume operations.
“We just need to wait if the government will reconsider again,” Precilla, IT manager and lead security architect at a major Abu Dhabi Bank, said. He noted that unlike before, there are now alternatives available – BOTIM and C’me – that have been introduced by Etisalat and du to provide VoIP services at certain monthly fees.
“That’s the big difference,” Precilla said.