It was almost like a WhatsApp dream come true for UAE residents on Thursday morning when the blocked free call feature was enabled on the Instant messaging service.
But dreams don’t last, and so do the free calls.
The euphoria was short-lived as the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) was quick to clarify that there was no change in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) policy in the country.
TRA said in the statement that any applications or services of this type must comply with the applicable regulatory framework in the country.
Before the official clarification that the voice and video calls are not enabled in the country, Social media was abuzz with the ‘Finally!! WhatsApp Calling is Unblocked” news. And mobile phones did not stop ringing as elated residents took the opportunity to freely connect with their friends and family back home.
“I could not believe it. I pressed the call button on WhastApp by mistake and the phone was ringing, and my brother was saying hello on the other side,” said Prithvi. R, an Indian expat.
“So convenient and economic for all expats in UAE. My monthly bills scares me always because of international calls I make. Honestly, this will help all of us who miss our loved ones,” wrote Diana Lama, a MakeOver expert, on her Facebook wall.
Mohammed Hafsal, a watchman said he spoke to his wife three times since morning. “I burn half of my salary on calling my family. This is a great blessing,” said Hafsal.
“Yess!! That removes the need of another app on my phone, Skype,” tweeted another resident.
There were also skeptic ‘tweeple’ who warned the service is temporarily enabled due to a glitch.
The cheers soon died down with the official clarification on the matter that WhatsApp calling is not unblocked in the UAE.
The blocking of free calling service is a debated subject in the UAE with a Federal National Council member advocating for a lift in the restriction in the 2016 April session. Etisalat and Du, the two telecom companies in the UAE have also blocked the Snapchat’s voice calling features last year when an upgrade of the app introduced the feature.
But TRA maintains that “VoIP services are still a prerogative of the licensed providers who reserve the right to provide such services through their networks. Companies wishing to offer such services must co-ordinate with the licensed telecom providers in the UAE”.
Mohammed Mustafa Saidalavi, COO of Emirates Safer Internet Society said he would love to see a free quality tool where people can make free calls but “not at the cost of safety and security.”
“As a security and online child protection expert, I have concerns about enabling free Whats App calls that are encrypted. I will not endorse any tools that will allow criminals and anti-social elements to use encrypted calls and messages,” said Saidalavi.
We tried making a WhatsApp call before uploading this story and found that it was already blocked in the region.
Let us know if it has been blocked on your handsets too.