State Mobile Companies Vs Voice Over Internet Protocol

•    The Current Environment of VOIP Use in Egypt
•    The NTRA and State Mobile Companies Behavior
•    Pro and Cons of VoIP Use
•    The Policy Questions on VoIP State Deregulation

•    The Current Environment of VOIP in Egypt
In the follow-up event of the Egyptian government unilateral decision to limit access over Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook, and Viber, state mobile companies urged the prohibition of free communication via those VoIP services. This News is almost certain about the intention of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, NTRA to block a number of programs and applications operating on the smartphone systems.

The use of voice over internet protocols (VoIP) such as Skype is now technically illegal in Egypt. This came in hopes of boosting state-owned Telecom Egypt’s international calling revenues for government internet operators. Whatsapp voice was closed since the service was launched in May 2015, but texting for both services is working.

A Mobinil official confirmed that « Skype voice on mobile was closed for such a long time, but it still working on the fix. If an end-user is connected from his/her mobile to WiFi, it would still and sometimes does not work, but again this might change soon as now most services are not functioning properly » 

In this context, end-users views have varied about networking sites and the reason for blocking those specific programs, between supporting state fear from the “danger of national security" and financial loss for telecom companies inside Egypt  said the owner Saber Malek and the responsible of software security services and applications.

VoIP has much affected the net profit of three major telecommunications companies operating in Egypt. The National Telecom has formed a technical committee, after increasing fears of widespread use of these programs, and their impact on corporate earnings on voice services, and SMS, by up to 25%.
•    The NTRA and State Mobile Companies Behavior
Since October 5, 2015, social media networks like Facebook and Twitter are experiencing a real campaign of denunciation of Egyptian consumers of telecom services. Through the hashtag #SaveTheInternet, thousands of users of Voice over IP (VOIP) Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp tried to circumvent the blocking by the government. While the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority denies that these services have been blocked, explaining that this is just a rumor. Telecom operators like Mobinil, Vodafone, and Etisalat stated otherwise.

Customer service representatives of the three mobile operators received a letter from telecom regulator ordering them to block VoIP applications in the country for National security reason because of the radical Islam narrative and online indoctrination process being spread via VoIP. The government needed to secure the revenue of telecom companies which report always the danger of VoIP applications for their budget.  One or the other reasons do not prove; according to Egyptian end-users such infringement of their freedom of communication.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 25 Egyptian courts rejected a lawsuit that sought to shut down Facebook in Egypt; the suit claimed the social media platform helps to propagate false information and promote religious indoctrination. According to Ahram Online, the court reasoned that self-censorship and “objective media coverage” would be more effective methods for mitigating the issue.

VoIP’s rapid expansion has made it a target for increased regulation. Currently, VoIP is regulated as an “information service,” which means it is not subject to telephone regulations and the associated added costs.

In Egypt the government needs to modernize their communications regulations and ensure the growth and expansion of their communications infrastructure, several states have moved toward deregulating VoIP and other telecom services by exempting VoIP from the authority of state public utility by proposing new legislation to deregulate VoIP use.

•    What are the Pros and Cons of VoIP?
 The biggest advantage of VoIP is that it offers significantly cheaper calls than traditional landline services including free international calls. If you plan to use VoIP to contact other VoIP customers in many cases they are completely free. Clearly, therefore, the long-term aim is that as VoIP becomes more popular you will be able to contact more and more people using this service, saving significant amounts of money.

Where VoIP is less straightforward is how it pertains to calls that are made or received by people who do not have VoIP. In this case, they are reliant on gateway services. These gateway providers give you a telephone number which allows you to call people on regular landlines and mobiles, and to receive calls from those numbers too. Unlike VoIP-VoIP services, this type of calling is not free as there is usually a flat monthly fee to pay out.

However, calls made in this manner are generally much cheaper than making landline-landline or mobile phone calls. This especially applies to the international rates offered by companies such as Skype and Vonage. As the calls are all made over the VoIP data network, it makes no difference whether you are talking to someone in the USA or the UK. The call costs are the same. As a result, most providers offer free international calls to select countries as part of their monthly subscription fee.

VoIP is also extremely beneficial for businesses. Not only does having one supplier for voice and data provide greater efficiency, but it also means computer applications and technologies can be linked which helps to streamline the working environment. If a business operates over several sites, VoIP can make good financial sense as it avoids expensive internal calls and even if a business operates at just one site, using VoIP can be beneficial when contacting customers.

•    The Policy Questions on State deregulation
Entrepreneurs will be affected cutting VoIP applications in Egypt; this will limit entrepreneurs’ ability to communicate with customers and partners. Startup’s operations relied on VoIP services. It would create an additional problem for the startup in that it would be unable to provide contracted services to subscribers.

VoIP services as their main means of communication because 20 percent of their client base was abroad. Entrepreneurs use to communicate with some of their customers on a weekly basis. They pointed out that the importance of those applications doesn’t relate only to the voice features, but to the video and sharing features as well.“Such features help us offer remote assistance to customers if mobile operators offer a package, people would subscribe to it. Instead of paying EGP 100 ($12.78 USD) we would pay EGP 500 or EGP 1000”.

Circumventing the bar to set up proxies and VPNs, and everyone will find a way to bypass any restrictions operators once again trying to monopolize voice and they will fail. The issue seems to not have been resolved yet. Some users still suggest that they experience difficulties using VoIP applications. For the time being, however, a ban on VoIP services is a concern many entrepreneurs share.

Opponents of VoIP deregulation argue telecom companies freed from the regulatory authority of the state commissions will ignore consumers’ concerns and allow the telecom companies free rein in providing and pricing their services and maintaining communications infrastructure.  That argument fails to acknowledge that the current regulatory system for telephone companies does not fit VoIP. By deregulating VoIP, states encourage innovation by removing the legacy rules that hinder telephone carriers.

Ensuring price flexibility and lowering regulatory burdens spurs competition among telecom providers and gives consumers more options and greater access to the next-generation products they want.  States need to consider VoIP deregulation in order to ensure that the rapid growth in new communication systems is not impeded by a wall of archaic regulations. 
Hamza Ben Mehrez: Policy Analyst Lead at (IGMENA)