VoIP users in the United Arab Emirates have been fighting a running battle with telco’s as restrictive practices are cutting them off from IP Telecommunications services.
According to this story, the latest round of restrictions appear to block SIP traffic using packet filter technology, whereas in the past port blocking had been used. Port blocking is relatively easy to avoid as it’s easy to change ports at the client end, but packet filtering (except with Skype) is a relatively easy and permanent block to data transfer.
Skype is a little harder to detect and therefore block in the network, but there are solutions emerging which would let countries, or organisations effectively block Skype if they put their mind to it.
The irony is that the incumbent telco, Etisalat, is actually a heavy IP Telephony user itself relaying as much as 40% of it international calls across VoIP gateways according to the source.
It’s perhaps easier to understand when taken in context that is rumoured to be working on its own consumer VoIP service.
Etisalat which is also the major broadband provider initially blocked access to the Skype website which meant users could download or upgrade versions of the client, nor could not buy credit.
With many Skype softphones already in place and the application being small enough to easily email most were getting around this inconvenience, or not upgrading their client (a potential security threat).
But the blockade turned into a business opportunity for one enterprising service called HeyU. To help users get copies of Skype, HeyU promised to send them an unblocked link to download the client app from a secure proxy site after paying the company using PayPal.
It’s not the first time Skype has been blocked in the region, says this story, which quotes one source saying that consumer pressure had overturned a previous Skype block in Saudi Arabia: “Two or three years ago Saudi Telecom also blocked Skype, which led to mass complaints from users. After a while, the telco gave up and unlocked it.”
Last month the public utility commission in Belize ruled that its monopoly telco would be allowed to block VoIP, but that it had to “notify the customer of the existence or imposition of this service limitation so that the customer can exercise choice in service providers,” and that the “service providers who offer restricted services should also offer an alternative service that does not include restrictions as an option to customers.”
A spokesperson for Etisalat in the UAE points out that it has every right to block the passage of Skype downloads or VoIP traffic as the provision of telecommunications services is restricted there and providing such a service is illegal for all but the two licensed carriers.
Skype actually ran into a similar situation in South Korea where it set up shop without first becoming a registered provider. However, it was let off fairly lightly there.