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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on OTT voice and messaging services

Saudi Arabia lifts ban on OTT voice and messaging services

Saudi Arabia has repealed its 2013 ban on several OTT and social media services, on the condition that they comply with its regulatory requirements.

Services such as Skype, Snapchat and WhatsApp have been banned in the Kingdom since 2013, but with oil prices plummeting, the country needs to find other revenue streams.

Internet services are expected to be a core pillar of this strategy, with the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission saying “digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivise the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries.”

The Commission added: “Access to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) will reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship – that’s why it is such an important step in the Kingdom’s internet regulation.”

Any internet content related to gambling, pornography or religious extremism will continue to be heavily restricted by the authorities.

Revoking the ban will likely impact the revenues of the country’s mobile operators Mobily, STC and Zain, as they benefit hugely from the country’s millions of expatriates making international calls and texts. The operators could stand to lose as much as 6% to 7% in revenue, according to Saudi analyst firm NCB Capital.

However, NCB senior analyst Iyad Ghulam noted that increased demand for data could offset some of this loss. “This move is basically telling these companies: You have to move on. Stop protecting your voice segment and move on,” he said.