UAE SMEs frus­trated by Skype out­age

The in­ter­net call­ing ser­vice stopped work­ing across the coun­try on Fri­day

The National - News - Business - - Front Page - John Ever­ing­ton jev­er­ing­ton@then­ational.ae

Con­tin­u­ing un­cer­tainty over the use of Skype and sim­i­lar in­ter­net call­ing ser­vices places a bur­den on the UAE’s small busi­ness com­mu­nity, threat­en­ing to un­der­mine the coun­try’s grow­ing sta­tus as a busi­ness and en­trepreneur­ship hub, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als.

The pop­u­lar in­ter­net call­ing ser­vice stopped work­ing across much of the coun­try on Fri­day, with sev­eral re­ports of in­ter­na­tional users un­able to hear or see UAE-based call­ers.

While early re­ports sug­gested the ser­vice fail­ure was be­cause of an at­tack by in­ter­na­tional hack­ers, the com­pany later clar­i­fied the ser­vice had been blocked.

“It has been brought to our at­ten­tion that our web­site and ser­vices have been blocked by both of the ISPs (in­ter­net ser­vice providers) in the United Arab Emi­rates,” Skype said in a state­ment at the time of the out­age.

“Un­for­tu­nately, there is very lit­tle Skype can do about this sit­u­a­tion.” Small busi­ness own­ers re­sponded to the out­age with frus­tra­tion. “We rely heav­ily on Skype and sim­i­lar apps to com­mu­ni­cate in­ter­na­tion­ally,” said Elissa Freiha, the founder of Dubai-based an­gel in­vest­ment plat­form Wom­ena.

“It’s frus­trat­ing not be­ing able to use ser­vices that have be­come stan­dard tools for in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” she said.

The in­abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate in­ter­na­tion­ally via Skype threat­ens to place an un­due cost bur­den on small busi­nesses in the UAE, a Dubai-based busi­ness owner told The Na­tional.

“Skype is an in­te­gral as­pect of my day-to-day op­er­a­tions as I not only deal with clients and busi­nesses here in the UAE but also in var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional ge­ogra­phies,” said the busi­ness owner, who asked to re­main anony­mous.

“It is not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able to be al­ways on the of­fice or cell phone for calls that last more than 60 min­utes on oc­ca­sion.”

“As this prob­lem has come to light it has al­ready af­fected me fi­nan­cially in terms of over­head costs and client face-time and as such there will need to be a so­lu­tion soon or one of my USPs [unique sell­ing points] will need to change, which has the po­ten­tial to af­fect the busi­ness on a large scale,” he said.

The re­stric­tion on Skype came af­ter voice calls over What­sApp were briefly en­abled in the UAE at the end of last week, af­ter pre­vi­ously hav­ing been un­avail­able.

The Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity (TRA) said at the time, how­ever, that its po­si­tion on Voice over In­ter­net Pro­to­col (VoIP) ser­vices was un­changed and that such ser­vices could only be pro­vided by li­censed tele­coms op­er­a­tors.

“Op­er­a­tors here have gen­er­ally ar­gued against en­abling in­ter­net-call­ing ser­vices, say­ing that these have a big, neg­a­tive im­pact on their call­ing rev­enues, which un­der­mines their abil­ity to in­vest in their net­works,” said Matthew Reed, a Dubai-based an­a­lyst with the con­sul­tancy Ovum.

Tele­coms op­er­a­tor du last week con­firmed in a state­ment “its com­mit­ment to the laws and reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sec­tor in the UAE, and cov­er­ing voice and video over IP, as aligned with the TRA of the UAE”.

Du and Eti­salat did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the Skype out­age dur­ing the Eid Al Fitr hol­i­day. The TRA de­clined to com­ment on whether any ac­tion had been taken re­gard­ing Skype.

The in­abil­ity to use com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices such as Skype threat­ens to un­der­mine the UAE’s am­bi­tions as a hub for in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and a growth cen­tre for en­trepreneurs and small busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to Ms Freiha.

“As teams be­come more in­ter­na­tional it be­comes that much more dif­fi­cult keep­ing a foot in the UAE when you’re not able to com­mu­ni­cate prop­erly,” she said.

“I travel around the world pro­mot­ing women’s em­pow­er­ment and en­trepreneur­ship in the UAE, but when I can’t have a Skype call with my team back home it feels like hypocrisy.”

Aaron Oliver, the Mid­dle East head of fin­tech com­mu­nity Next Money, agreed.

“UAE in­no­va­tion needs tech tools to thrive,” said Mr Oliver in post on Twit­ter yes­ter­day.

Dado Ru­vic / Reuters

The in­abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate in­ter­na­tion­ally via Skype can place an un­due cost bur­den on small busi­nesses.

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