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In Coronavirus Lockdown, Gulf Residents Urge End To Voice-Call Bans

Residents in the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states are urging telecom firms to further ease restrictions on free internet calls as coronavirus separates families and forces people to work and study from home.

The UAE’s two telecommunications firms Etisalat and Du said they recently enabled Microsoft Teams over both wifi and mobile data connections as well as Blackboard, Zoom and CloudTalk — but appear to continue to block more popular applications.

“Please just listen to us. Unblock Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, even if it’s just temporary. 80% of the country is away from their homes,” urged Twitter user @danielmarcevans.

“If not now during the spread of the virus to allow us to communicate with our families, then when?” user Basem Saif tweeted on Sunday.

Applications that use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services — free Internet-to-Internet voice and video calls – are restricted to varying degrees in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but not in Bahrain or Kuwait.

Expatriates make up the majority in many Gulf states, particularly the UAE, the region’s business and tourism hub.

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)declined to comment on VoIP availability. State-controlled Etisalat and DU directed Reuters questions to the TRA.

Virgin Mobile, part of Du, did not respond to comment requests, but told one customer complaining about VoIP restrictions on Twitter it was “working” on the issue.

Oman, while still blocking WhatsApp – owned by Facebook Inc – said Skype for Business, Google Meet, Zoom and WebEx were now useable. Its Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said the move was to help business continuity and communication.

—New York Times

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