The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has reiterated that voice over IP (VoIP) services can only be offered by licensed providers, making the announcement that WhatsApp has started offering free VoIP calls something of a non-event for users in the region.
As regional newspaper Emirates 247 reports, mobile messaging service WhatsApp rolled out the VoIP calls functionality worldwide last week, prompting some in the UAE to make the most of the 'free' calls.
However, only a few hours after the functionality was enabled, UAE telecom operators apparently started scrambling the service, with only Etisalat and du licensed to provide telecom services in the country, including VoIP services.
The TRA suggested the deactivation of the service shouldn't come as a surprise to people, with its policy on VoIP having been in place for some time without amendment.
"VoIP services are still a prerogative of the licensed providers who reserve the right to provide such services through their networks. Companies wishing to offer such services must co-ordinate with the licensed telecom providers in the UAE," the regulator explained.
Lack of such policy in other regions in the world has forced operators to look for a way to offset the threat of VoIP providers who offer calls over the public internet at no cost.
In the UAE, however, operators are well within their rights to scramble VoIP calls, as Etisalat and du appear to have done with WhatsApp's new offering.
It has also been reported that Etisalat has blocked another VoIP service in the last week, with Arabian Business sources suggesting that Roamer, which provides calls abroad at low rates and both over an internet connection and without, has been stopped in its tracks.