Expat startups in UAE suffering from ban on VoIP

Expat startups in UAE suffering from ban on VoIP

Expat startups in UAE suffering from ban on VoIP

As if launching a startup in the UAE isn’t tough enough, entrepreneurs are having to cope without access to essential VoIP products such as WhatsApp, Facetime and Skype.

The de facto ban imposed by the UAE on these popular add-ons increases startup costs, deters investors, reduces productivity and damages the competitiveness of entrepreneurial startups in the UAE as against similar activity in their overseas rivals. It’s even less easily understood given the emphasis the emirates are placing on creating a technological infrastructure rivalling the best on the planet, according to frustrated expat entrepreneurs.

One such expat professional, Ian Dillon, told local media it’s a harmful restriction as it adds layers of bureaucracy and added costs to new businesses at a time when they should be concentrating on their product and finding available funding. Dillon’s fintech company, NOW Money, offers branchless, mobile fee-free accounts covering the whole of the Middle East, and is now affected by being forced to make conference or direct calls via a mobile or conventional landline. His minimum of five daily calls is costing far more than is necessary if VoIP services were available.

Another expat entrepreneur notes many regional startups are setting up their head offices in the UAE due to its strong consumer and corporate bases, but a good number are siting their tech hubs offshore in India, Pakistan, Jordan or Egypt. All VoIP products, he says, are essential supports for entrepreneurs as they connect with employees, service providers, clients and investors easily and affordably. The ban, he adds, hits hardest on the early stages of startup formation, at exactly the time when founders are cash-strapped and struggling to get backing for their ideas.

Across the UAE, the ban conflicts even with the emirates’ ambitions to become tech hubs, tourism favorites and financial centres, with Dubai’s plans for using smart solutions to improve its economy, environment, mobility and governance set to be damaged by the lack of easy VoIP access for businesses and tourists. International investors have already picked up on the problem, noting they can’t make their normal calls due to the ban. To money men, it’s a negative signal that an otherwise highly technologically developed city doesn’t offer this basic communications infrastructure.

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