UAE block on internet calls eases for Expo 2020 site visitors

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DUBAI, Sep 29 (Businesshala) – Officials on the grounds of the Expo 2020 Dubai World’s Fair have allowed people to make calls on WhatsApp and other Internet apps, opening a chime in the ban that has long frustrated businesses and residents.

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Most applications that use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services – free Internet-to-Internet voice and video calls – have been blocked in the UAE for years, particularly angering many since the start of the pandemic.

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On Wednesday, Businesshala found that people were able to make and take voice calls using WhatsApp and Skype from the expo site, which will open on Friday to businesses and other exhibitors in nearly 200 countries.

Expo organizers inquired about the changes in the UAE’s Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority, which did not respond to requests for comment.

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Dubai is hoping to boost its economy by attracting 25 million business and tourist visits to the World’s Fair, which is built from scratch on 4.3 square km (1.7 sq mi) of desert.

It was not immediately clear whether the exemption would last beyond the six-month expo, or whether it would be extended to other regions of the UAE, a federation of seven emirates.

On Wednesday, internet services were seen again outside the site.

The government has said in the past that people can only use licensed services like BOTIM without giving reasons. Other countries have imposed similar restrictions for security reasons and to protect telecom providers’ revenue.

The ban on calls using the popular WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype applications has particularly troubled UAE residents who were separated from families and friends by restrictions during the pandemic.

As the disease spread and education and work went online, two UAE telecommunications operators – Etisalat and Doo – enabled Microsoft Teams on both Blackboard, Zoom and CloudTalk, along with WiFi and mobile data connections.

The block remained on more popular applications, including WhatsApp and Skype. Etisalat and Do did not respond to requests for comment.

Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world fair to be held in the Middle East, got delayed by a year due to the pandemic.

Written by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Havens

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