Voice over Internet Protocol Technology

Abstract

This research study is a form of an argumentative research paper that seeks to explore whether or not Du and Etisalat, the two telecommunications organizations that have been licensed to provide VoIP services, should block their users from utilizing this technology. Background information of VoIP shall be examined, regarding its definition and the associated benefits, in addition to the challenges that characterize the technology. In addition, the paper shall also examine why some countries allow VoIP services, while others block them. Further, the study will explore whether Etisalat and Du customers be permitted to use VoIP to make phone calls.

Introduction

The telecommunication industry has greatly been transformed, thanks to VoIP. VoIP provides diverse opportunities to the users, some of which include data and voice networks convergence, lower call fees, deployment simplification, as well as and enhanced integration with diverse applications which provides users with increased multimedia deployment. In spite of the aforementioned economic and technological opportunities that VoIP provides, nonetheless there are also challenges that come with its use, with security concerns being the leading issue. This might also explain why some governments are not very keen on licensing providers of VoIP who cannot be easily vetted. In the UAE, VoIP services have always been closely regulated by ISP companies and the Local Telecom (Carter-Jones, 2009, par. 2). These two players are not keen on seeing VoIP’s impact on the telecom business in the UAE. UAE Telecom companies have therefore ensured that they block virtually all VoIP service providers. There are however VoIP providers in the UAE who have managed to use VPN to rout their connections. VPN refers to an independent network that is capable of being hosted by a server located outside of UAE. In addition, this virtual private network enables users to utilize it via a HTTP port 80. This port escapes obstruction by an internet service provider (ISP). However, there have been allegations that Etisalat is in the process of seeking a VPN Filter that will enable it to trail VPN traffic that can be traced from the UAE (Carter-Jones, 2009, par. 4). The implication is that those VoIP users that we’re able to access the service using VPN may not be able to do so anymore. The rules and regulations that govern VoIP services application are usually established by TRA (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority).

According to the stipulations of TRA, VoIP services in the UAE may only be provided by Du and Etisalat, who have been licensed to provide these services (Lim & Parris, 2009, p. 53). Despite this, a closer look at the individual websites of the two service providers reveals a lack of information that talks more of this technology. For example, the Du website directs the reader to TRA’s website, to read the regulations contained therein. The Etisalat website is equally of little help regarding VoIP services. Even as Du AND Etisalat have sought to block sites that offer VoIP users the necessary software for its operation in the United Arab Emirates, the same software is readily available for free in other countries. A majority of the internet service providers from these countries are the ones charged with the responsibility of providing this service. Given that VoIP technology is meant to provide users with fast access to quality and affordable phone calling and receiving services, Etisalat and Du should not be allowed to block their customers from using VoIP technology.

Background information

In broad terms, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) refers to integrated transmission technologies that find use in voice communications delivery over such Internet Protocol (IP) networks as the Internet, as well as additional packet-switched networks (Korzeniowski, 2009, par. 4). VoIP systems normally make use of session control protocols in order to manage both the tear-down and set-up of calls, in addition to audio codes that usually encode speech (Madathil, 2004, par. 5), thereby enabling its transmission to take place over IP networks like digital audio, through the use of the audio stream. It is important to note that the use of codec usually differs between diverse VoIP implementations. Whereas there are a number of implementations that depend on compressed speech and narrowband, there are still others that supplement stereo codecs of high fidelity.

IPs are such that geographically tracing network users becomes quite difficult. Therefore, it is not easy to route emergency calls to for example, a call center located nearby. Occasionally, VoIP systems are able to rout, for example, emergency calls. Owing to the high level of mobility that IP offers, this only adds to complications to the system. It is quite possible for example, for a VoIP user to gain access to make use of a broadband connection to gain access to a ‘virtual private network’ owned by an employer. When a link lacks between on the one hand an IP address and on the other hand, a physical location, the implication is that it becomes quite hard to reveal any valuable information concerning emergency services. In particular, VoIP mainly relies on a protocol suite known as TCP/IP. The way VoIP operates is akin to the mode of operations of PSTN (public switched telephone network). There are two diverse, yet interdependent systems of the PTSN. The first system is concerned with handling voice traffic, the establishment of physical links that enables its end users to either interconnect with phones or terminals (International engineering Consortium, 2007, p. 4). An SS7 (intelligent signaling system) constitutes the second system of PSTN. This signaling system gives routing information, in addition to advanced functionality. The two interdependent systems give specific services and when they are integrated, they make up the entire modern-day telephone system. The mode of operations of VoIP is similar to that of PTSN. However, unlike the PTSN system which needs two systems that are built and maintained independently, (one to take care of call signaling, while the other one handles voice traffic) VoIP on the other hand, utilizes the Internet, a standard infrastructure, as well as two diverse suite protocols, to enable it provide the much needed differentiated functionalities.

Open protocols, proprietary and standards have all been used to implement VoIP. There are a number of technologies that have thus far been utilized to help in the implementation process of VoIP. These include IP Multimedia Subsystem, RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol), H.323, and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). Skype network is an outstanding proprietary implementation. It is possible for a user to get connected to the service providers of VoIP in one of the three ways (International engineering Consortium, 2007, p. 4). First, the connection can be accomplished via Analog Telephone Adapter. In this case, a broadband connection is needed, to act as the IP network, in addition to a telephone jack that is already in existence. On the other hand, this kind of service is by nature fixed to a designated location, in addition to the fact that most of the organizations dealing with cable and telephone services make use of it to provide their clients with affordable flat rates of calling, through the use of the. We also have special gadgets called dedicated VoIP phones. These phones enable VoIP calls to be made, in the absence of a computer, by utilizing a direct connection to an existing IP network, via the use of such technologies as Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

For purposes of getting connected to PTSN, one must obtain services of a registered and licensed VoIP service provider. In this case, a majority of the people make use of this technology alongside a paid service scheme. The third way that one can gain access to VoIP technology is by using a Digital/Internet phone. Users can have this software installed on their personal computers, in effect enabling them to accomplish VoIP calls, without the need for a dedicated hardware (Renee, 2008, par. 4). As opposed to the use of an analog phone line, VoIP enables users to utilize broadband internet connections for making voice calls. When an individual using VoIP makes a call to the regular phone number, the ensuing signal of the call being made gets converted to that received by the normal telephone signal, prior to its getting to the desired destination. A broadband connection to the internet (at high speed), an adapter, a computer, relevant software, and a specialized phone are the main building blocks for the VoIP technology. In terms of operational benefits, VoIP enables users to rout phone calls “over existing data networks” (Madathil, 2004, par. 6), meaning that users do not require separate data and voice networks. In addition, VoIP facilitates call forwarding, conference calling, caller ID and automatic redial. These features are usually provided at a fee by conventional telecommunication services. However, open-source VoIP provides these features free of charge, through such implementations as FreeSWITCH and Asterisk. VoIP costs are usually lower, principally due to the billing process of the Internet, relative to regular telephone calls. VoIP operates on a megabyte billing system, in contrast to the seconds billing system that is characteristic of the analog telephone.

What this means is that the basis of billing VoIP calls is on how much data a user has sent over the Internet, as opposed to on the basis of time (Proenza, 2006, p. 3). Practically, VoIP calls are by far much cheaper when compared with the use of regular telephone lines to make a call.

Even as VoIP has enormous benefits to the users, nonetheless there are challenges that also characterise this service. To start with, there is the issue of Quality of Service. Since the fundamental IP network is intrinsically far less dependable when compared with a public telephone network that is circuit-switched, and since VoIP lacks a system to guarantee the sequential delivery of data packets, there is the likelihood that jitter and mitigating latency are some of the problems that could accompany the implementation of VoIP (Dudmann, 2009, par. 6). Furthermore, DoS attacks and congestion issues are more likely to affect a VoIP network, when compared with the conventional circuit-switched systems. Power failure susceptibility is another challenge to the use of VoIP. In as much as conventional telephone services are linked directly to telephone companies’ owned lines, the mode of operation of analog handsets is that it does not rely on locally available sources of power.

Why do some countries block VoIP and others do not?

The question of some countries opting to block VoIP services, in spite of the enormous benefits that it affords its users, has been debated for a considerable amount of time now, in the telecommunication world. In addition, residents of such countries as the UAE, Oman and Belize, amongst others, wonder why they cannot have access to VoIP services like their counterparts in other countries that have allowed the use of this technology (Reynolds, 2006, par. 3). Nations with strict Internet censorship laws, and more so those found in the Middle East, have put forward the claim that the primary reason behind the blocking of VoIP services is the local culture and values. On the other hand, critics have argued that if culture and value are the main reason behind the blocking of VoIP, perhaps it would be alright for such government to instead censor the Internet service providers in terms of the contents that they provide to their users. In addition, these critics have argued that some countries notably the UAE, operate on a monopoly policy when it comes to the provision of internet services. For example, the two licensed service providers in the UAE, Etisalat and Du, are actually controlled by the government. The blockage to VoIP services therefore occurs for the simple reason that these forms of online services have the potential to significantly reduce the amount of revenue that the government collects, in the form of international calls made using analog phone lines. Accordingly, experts contend that in such countries as the UAE where VoIP has been blocked, and where many workers from foreign countries are to be found, the licensing of VoIP services might in fact cause a disaster, with regard to the sales revenues that the telecom companies that are owned by the state make from international calls.

The TRA is the UAE argues that VoIP has been totally banned in the country owing to commercial reasons, a move that saw Skype, one of the VoIP service providers, being blocked (Carter-Jones, 2009, par. 1). The state, through TRA stands firm in its decision to still uphold the ban that has been slapped on Skype, the software program that enables users to make and receive cheaper phone calls over the internet. In a move that has been seen as more of regulating this service, only Du and Etisalat have the permission to provide VoIP services. The current policy of TRA is that the various services that rely on VoIP stand prohibited. VoIP technology has turned into a fundamental issue for discussion, and more so in the case of expatriates’ residents working and living in the UAE, and who are out to seek cheaper ways through which they can be able to communicate with the members of their families back home. As a result of the mandate that Etisalat and Du have been given by TRA, Du embarked on a mission to selectively block VoIP traffic, beginning March 2008, in the processing stopping customers from accessing VoIP services (Ditcham, 2009, par.4).

The move by Du was in keeping with the censorship practice that Etisalat, the other licensed government-owned telecom organization, has been carrying out for some time now. According to TRA, this move is warranted, based on the fact that under the telecom law in UAE, it is illegal to provide VoIP services. Even so, one cannot rule out a commercial reason behind this move, seeing that both Du and Etisalat obtain a huge portion of their revenues from the expensive international calls that are made by expatriates living in the country. In contrast, telecom laws within the UAE have in place a specific exclusion that makes an allowance for VoIP calls. Accordingly, a user is in a position to access various websites providing VoIP services. While still at it, users can freely download the VoIP SOFTWARE, after first having created an account for the VoIP services.

Saeed Al Mansouri, the communications minister at the UAE contends that the government does not intend to lift the ban that has been slapped on third-party providers of VoIP in the country. According to the minister, any decision that the government could reach on about permitting third parties to provide VoIP services can only be accomplished in the full cooperation of Du and Etisalat, the two local telecom operators that have been licensed to offer this service (Reynolds, 2006, par. 5). In 2005, such consumer VoIP services like Net2Phone and Skype have already been banned from operating in the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The main reason for the ban was because the service providers made it possible for their users to make both local and international calls at a lower cost, using their internet connections, even as they circumvented the already fixed infrastructure by Etisalat. According to the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) in the UAE, these kinds of services need to be treated the same way that the conventional fixed and mobile lines services are treated. Accordingly, there is also the need to license them (Dudmann, 2006, par. 4).

It is not in doubt that the use of VoIP has resulted in a drastic reduction of revenues earned by the telecommunication industry, both in the developing as well as the developed countries. Up to this point, very few developed countries have fully implemented a policy that could impede VoIP communication establishment (Madathil, 2004, par. 6). This is because, in as much as there is a loss of revenue by telecommunication organizations, on the other hand, the technology provides the various economies with opportunities for new jobs, in effect generating additional revenue. This could therefore provide an explanation as to why some countries have not banned the VoIP software. Moreover, VoIP means economical and quality telecommunications service provisions to the people. Accordingly, any government that would want to assert its keenness on promoting good governance would be really on facilitating the availability of this service to its people.

A majority of the developing nations appears to have warmed up to the swift rate at which VoIP technology is expanding, even as they are aware of the impending risk that they have assumed, in the form of a loss in direct revenues by state-owned telecommunication corporate that provides the traditional analog forms of communication. For example, Hong Kong boasts of flexible attitudes as far as VoIP setup is concerned. As a result, there has been a resultant reduction in terms of direct revenue that the telecommunications industry earns, by as much as 18 percent. However, VoIP-based establishments have indirectly led to a 145 percent increase in revenues to the same industry. Moreover, it is now possible for the ordinary people to have access to quality telecommunications services, at a low cost (Korzeniowski, 2009, par. 7).

China has also legalized VoIP so that for an investor willing to venture into the provision of VoIP technology, the government has relaxed bureaucratic and financial processes involved. As a result, a majority of the VoIP operators find it easier to work in China. There has also been a significant increase in the number of VoIP services providers, and this has meant improved quality of service due to competition. Such a scenario has also been documented in Thailand and Singapore, amongst other developing economies. What this appears to suggest is that the developing and the developed economies alike view the rapid rate at which VoIP services are expanding as an activity that deserves to be given priority. Instead of dwelling more on the direct revenue that is realized by the telecommunication industry, these nations have instead opted to emphasize more on the indirect rise in terms of the huge revenues that can be realized by VoIP-bases services. Moreover, as a result of how widespread the use of VoIP has become, the residents of these developing and developed countries are now happy to enjoy telecommunication services that are of sound quality, at affordable rates.

Should Etisalat and Du customers be permitted to use VoIP to make phone calls?

The Telecom Law of 2003 principally regulates VoIP policy telecommunications in the UAE, with TRA charged with the mandate of executing the implementation of this policy. On the basis of a policy that TRA issued on December 26, 2006, and which acts in line with the existing Telecom Law in the UAE, VoIP technology usage has been prohibited (Lim & Parris, 2009, p. 53). The prohibition, as stipulated by the TRA, affects the IP handsets that are internet-enabled, and which handles the national as well as the international calls. This is in addition to the web-activated telephony, gateways that direct VoIP service to and from the UAE, amongst others. Nonetheless, this law has an exception, where VoIP services may be provided. To start with, VoIP services are normally allowable in a case whereby their provision occurs in its entity, in an otherwise private network. The other way that VoIP services in the UAE can be allowed is through the two licensed providers of telecommunications in the country; Etisalat or Du. However, it is important to note that the calls that might be made courtesy of this provision have to be within the country. Based on this clause in the Telecom Law in the UAE, Etisalat and Du should permit their customers to make local calls using VoIP.

Saleem (2009, par. 1) contends that Du AND Etisalat, the two leading telecom operators in the UAE have reiterated their willingness at cooperating in ensuring that international VoIP introduces into the country. Hover, this shall be dependent on the speed with which the TRA is able to release a policy that would recognize the two telecom operators as service providers of international VoIP. This would act as good news to the customers of the two service providers, who would have otherwise wished to make affordable and fast international phone calls using the latest technology. The TRA director-general, Mohammad Al Ganem, has revealed that the authority is also willing to work jointly with the two service providers, to ensure that the international VoIP calls are possible. Already, the authority has given both Du and Etisalat the green light to provide VoIP calls within the UAE.

In response to the possibility of his organization being able to enable their customers to provide international VoIP, the CEO (chief executive officer) of Du, Othman Sultan, said, “VoIP is great. We are ready for it.” (Saleem, 2009, par. 4). The CEO further added the willingness of his organizations to be part of the process of ensuring that their customers are in a position to make international phone calls using VoIP technology. The onus is therefore on TRA, because already, Etisalat and Du appear to have stuck to the regulations and rules that the authority has established which is why they only provide VoIP services within the UAE.

In a sharp contrast to what the CEO AT Du has stated, Mohamed Omran, the chairman at Etisalat, has hinted at a possibility that his organization, and perhaps Du, their rival, would be forced to increase the amount of money they charge their customers when they are making local calls using the fixed lines, as well as while using additional software based on VoIP (Billing, 2009, par. 1). As Mohammed Omran has noted, “If Skype or other types of Voice Over IP (VoIP) is introduced in the UAE, that will affect the revenue not only for us, but for also for Du,” (Billing, 2009, par. 3). Nonetheless, if these two VoIP service providers would implement a long-term project for rolling out international VoIP services, they need to worry too much about revenues, at least not in the long term. This is because there are many foreigners in Dubai who would be more than willing to make international phone calls to their families and acquaintances back home, not to mentions the citizens of the UAE, who have relatives in other countries.

Conclusion

The use of VoIP technology has led to a revolution in the telecommunication industry. As a result, it is now possible for individuals to make and receive affordably and quality phone calls. This has been facilitated by the availability of free software that enables this service to be accomplished. In the United Arab Emirates, many expatriates would really benefit from these services, when they have to make international calls home. It would therefore be expected that the government would be very cooperative in helping to liberalize the telecommunication sector and in the process, assist in creating new job opportunities and revenue collection. In contrast, Du and Etisalat, the two state-owned telecommunication organizations that have been licensed to offer this service, are now blocking their users from using this service.

In the UAE, the Telecom Law of 2003 principally regulates VoIP policy telecommunications. Accordingly, the TRA is mandated with the execution and implementation of this policy. On December 26, 2006, the TRA prohibited the use of VoIP technology, in line with the existing policy (Lim & Parris, 2009, p. 53). The good thing is that there is an exemption of this law that allows for the provision of VoIP services, by licensed providers in the UAE, such as Du and Etisalat. This exemption clause allows for local and national calls within the country. Accordingly, the two organizations should not restrict VoIP services, at the national level, but should encourage them, to increase their revenues. In addition, allowances should also be made to the expatriates and other individuals within the UAE who would wish to make international calls using VoIP.

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