Why Skype is blocked in the UAE
That title is a little misleading, we asked, but never did get to the bottom of why Skype.com is blocked in the UAE. No one at Skype has a clue. But we did get to sit down (well – talk over Skype) with Rouzbeh Pasha, Skype’s regional manager in the Middle East and Africa.
For a bit of background – this all started with Skype’s 2.0 iPhone app launch in the UAE. We were curious as to how the official app could work out here, with Skype.com and most downloads to the Skype PC and Mac software banned. How did it get around the UAE’s censors, and why is it banned in the first place?
Here’s how it went:
Stuff: First off, why is Skype banned in the UAE?
R: Well, it’s not actually banned. You see, blocking the Skype software is very hard to do. Once installed, it uses public internet packages to send data, it’s the same data as browsing the web for example. What we think happened in the UAE is Skype.com has been added to a list of blocked domains. That means when on an internet connection based in the UAE, you can’t access the website. You can still use the software though, and make free Skype calls to any other user or phone around the world.
Is Skype doing anything about it? Prank calling the service providers, perhaps?
Yes we trying, and we’re taking baby-steps in the right direction. Of course we are against our URL being banned in the region. We feel that Skype is for the public interest, letting users communicate with others around the world at no cost. Unfortunately, the Middle East and African region is a big one and we can’t concentrate all our efforts on one country alone.
Is Skype big in the rest of the region?
That’s hard to say. You see, Skype doesn’t monitor usage as a matter of principle. Once you download Skype and create a profile, you can talk to anyone or go anywhere to use it. We don’t want to discriminate against users (so not allow it in certain blocked or banned countries) or breach their privacy in any way.
Better question, do you think not having Skype is hurting the UAE?
We don’t know about that, but I would think that any country that tries to be a world leader and at the cutting-edge would eventually realize Skype’s potential. We’re about creating a better community through free communication, by using some of the best technology available. If you want to be the best car country, for example, you wouldn’t import all the best cars and then stick a horse on the front. If you want to be a leader in telecommunications, why block Skype?
Do you think it’s because it sees you as competition? You’re stealing their profit?
I really wouldn’t know. You would have to ask those responsible for Skype.com being banned.
We love making Skype mobile, and if we can get it over 3G and not just Wi-Fi, all the better. But there’s two ways we are dealing with mobile platforms. Obviously, we have the simple download option. You’ve seen that in the app for the iPhone and also on Symbian. We hope to have an official Skype app on the Android Market by the end of the year. That’s the first way. The second, has to do with BlackBerry devices. Skype for BlackBerry uses a lot more of the back-end services of your service provider. That means we need to discuss it with them, which can take a while, before we can go ahead and develop one. We currently have an application with Verizon, in the US.
If Skype.com is banned, not to mention a load of websites that host the Skype program, how do you think it made it into the UAE’s Apple App Store?
The Skype program is hosted on our website, but our mobile downloads are not on that URL. For the App Store – it’s hosted somewhere else (Apple has it). So while Skype might be on that list of blocked domains I mentioned before, the iPhone app isn’t on it. In this case, it’s hosted by Apple, so only it can approve or unapprove a particular app.
So enough about the UAE, what’s next for Skype? Better sound? Video quality? Spill it
User experience is key for us, so we’re going to be listening to our users and what they need. The Skype app for the iPhone is a good example of this, users wanted to make calls when away from Wi-Fi areas, so we built-in 3G capability. We want Skype to be the only form of internet communication, and we’re going to try our best to make that happen. I mean, look at the next generation of internet-ready TVs just coming out. Many have a Skype application built-in that means in the future, hopefully, users will be able to make Skype calls from the sofa, and not have to sit in front of a PC or hold their smartphone in the air. That’s what our users want.
So let’s talk multiple video conferencing, when’s that going to happen? [thanks @benjackthomas from Twitter]
It’s already available, but in the next app’s beta. The beta is available from the Skype.com website, so won’t be available to any UAE users. Sorry. Video conferencing is built-in with the beta, but we think it might become a premium feature when released.
Premium feature, so you’re going to charge for it? We’ve heard rumours that Skype might start charging for calls over 3G in 2011, that true?
We will be pushing out a range of premium content, but we are moving slowly. We want to make sure we price it properly, as per the needs of our users. We don’t want to go charging huge amounts for features that only a small amount of Skype users will make the most of. We think multiple video conferencing is one of those features, perfect for business and power-users, but not needed for everyone.
As you probably know (who doesn’t?) the iPhone 4 was announced on Monday. It has a new video conferencing feature called FaceTalk. Do you think that’s competition for Skype?
There’s nothing wrong with competition. It forces us to be even better than we already are, and of the competition-.
And there we have it – if you want Skype you’ll have to download it outside the country, get a mate to send it to you (he must also be outside the UAE) or use some handy software to get around the UAE’s blocked content (but remember, that’s not allowed and it might get you in trouble). Either that, or get an iPhone (or wait until the iPhone 4 hits with its front-facing cam).