Al Habtoor chairman calls for end to UAE WhatsApp 'ban'
A leading Emirati businessman says the de facto ban on WhatsApp voice calls in the UAE should be lifted.
In a video post on his Twitter account, Khalaf Al Habtoor, chairman of the conglomerate Al Habtoor Group, called for the service to be made freely available to customers.
Mr Al Habtoor, who regularly shares opinions on topics in videos on social media, said calls on the messaging service should be allowed in line with the "pioneering" spirit of the country.
In a message to telecoms operators, shared in both English and Arabic, Mr Al Habtoor said use of the free calling service should be accessible in the UAE as it is in the rest of the world.
"In a country like the UAE, where we aim to always be pioneers in all we do, WhatsApp calls should not banned when it is accessible everywhere else in the world.
"I urge mobile carriers in the UAE to lift the ban on a service free to use in the top nations of the world."
The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has stated that voice over internet protocol (VoIP) applications such as WhatsApp calling and Skype must comply with the UAE's regulatory framework.
The TRA has said that the operation of VoIP services is the prerogative of licensed telecommunication providers.
The authority has stated that companies wishing to offer such services must co-ordinate with the licensed telecom providers in the county.
Last year, du, the UAE's second largest telecoms provider, said it was open to offering VoIP services such as WhatsApp calling over its network, provided such services are offered in partnership with operators.
Fahad Al Hassawi, du’s chief commercial officer, told The National that the operator had no objection to allowing VoIP calling services over its network, but that formal agreements had to be signed between the networks and providers first.
“We have an open invitation to any provider, be it WhatsApp, Skype or whoever, to come and partner with us, and we can come up with the right offering that falls within the licensing requirements here in the UAE,” Mr Al Hassawi said.
“There’s an obligation on us as operators to make sure that we’re offering such services according to the terms of our licence from the regulator.”
Operators have argued against the formal introduction of VoIP services on their networks, arguing that the resulting erosion of international call revenues hinder their ability to invest in networks.
Residents of the UAE have long called for VoIP services to be available in the UAE, which would save money on phone calls to their home countries.
In March of this year, and in June last year, many customers reported that the WhatsApp calling service was operational in the UAE, however this proved to be only temporary.