Etisalat move hits snag

Etisalat move hits snag


Etisalat move hits snag

BY ISAAC JOHN (Chief Business Reporter)

29 May 2006

DUBAI — With the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) yesterday ruling out any immediate policy decision on allowing the low-cost Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP services, Etisalat's move to make yet another headstart over its new rival du appears derailed.

Mohammed Nasser Al Ghanim, Director-General of the TRA, said a policy on legalising the VoIP service will not be finalised before the end of this year as several factors including technical and legal issues have to be studied and addressed, besides its implication with regard to telecom providers in other countries.

He said TRA was in the process of shaping up a policy in consultation with industry experts, the public and neighbouring GCC countries. "The programme is in the consultative phase. First, we have to decide on whether to allow such a service, and if allowed, whether it would be without any regulations, just as a value added service, or under full regulatory control."

Etisalat, on an aggressive mode following the entry of UAE's second telecom operator du, has been launching several new products and services in a row to reinforce its leadership. It was hoping to steal a march by grabbing the first opportunity to launch VoIP before du, which is yet to streamline its services.

"Now, both players will get a level-playing field as TRA will take more time to finalise its VoIP policy," one industry analyst said.

Al Ghanim said TRA is also consulting with other GCC countries. The topic is to be discussed at the GCC ministerial meeting. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are also studying the proposal. Once a policy decision is taken, TRA will set the rules and regulations to control VoIP services, allowing only licensed operators — Etisalat and du — to provide it.

He said several technical issues including different compression technologies to ensure the voice quality have to be sorted out before the policy is announced. There are new technological advances to address problems such as stutter, digital garbage, occasional lag and echo while making VoIP calls.

Jaber Al Janahi, Etisalat spokesman, said the UAE telecom operator is prepared for the launch of the service once it gets the go ahead from TRA.

VoIP services offering Internet telephony can be highly cost-effective as it uses the internet connection to carry voice calls rather than the regular public switched telephone network.  Since VoIP service does not involve buying satellite time or undersea link bandwidth for long distance calls, it is substantially cheaper than conventional telephone calls.

VoIP, which is currently available in certain free zone areas of Dubai, allows the user to make telephone calls using a computer network, over a data network like the Internet. It converts the voice signal from the caller's telephone into a digital signal that travels over the Internet then converts it back at the other end so the user can speak to anyone with a regular phone number. When placing a VoIP call using a phone with an adapter, the caller will hear a dial tone. VoIP may also allow one to make a call directly from a computer using a conventional telephone or a microphone.

Etisalat, which has been the monopoly telecom operator until the entry of du, used to block web sites offering cheap international calls through voice over Internet protocol technology.

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