I recently got to use the video chat feature on the iPhone 4 called FaceTime. This feature basically lets you with a press of a button start an internet video chat conversation with any of your contacts who have an iPhone 4 or a have the FaceTime application installed on their Mac computers. The service is currently only available if you are connected to a wireless network and is not available for use directly on the phone’s cellular data service. It is really simple to use, the quality of the video and voice is amazing, and it will surely help people chat with their family and friends all around the world without having to pay for international phone calls, except in Oman – as usual.
That last sentence is not true, at least yet, because even users in Oman can still use it, but we all know that sooner or later FaceTime will be blocked here – just like every other voice over IP service that was ever invented. The current way the regulation works is that providers of VoIP services must be registered in the country in order for them to provide their services here, and of course as Oman is a very small market for big international players, we do not matter for them, or more realistically we do not exist at all on their radar, so nobody would really bother to come here to spend time and money to register. The result of this is that we as consumers have no option but use the local telephone operators who charge outrageously expensive rates for making international calls even to close places such as the UAE or Qatar. Expats in the country think that this is all part of a big a plan done just to take advantage of them as they pay crazy amounts to stay in touch with their families back home, but the truth is even locals need to make international phone calls to stay in touch with members of their family who study abroad, work in another country, or just to communicate with the rest of the world! We are all adversely affected by the fact that VoIP is blocked in Oman.
If it is true that VoIP is regulated this way in order to protect the interests of the telecom operator then that would be such a short-sighted goal. While it is obvious that having VoIP would mean that fewer people would be using regular telephone services, this is a natural aspect of technological development because as new technologies come old industries would have to die in order for all of us to move along. Secondly, the fact that we are not using cellular voice service does not mean that we will not be paying for cellular data services which are needed to use VoIP and any other technologies used to communicate over the internet. These companies should focus on bringing us faster and more versatile methods for using the internet which will gladly pay for instead of forcing us to rely on old expensive services which nobody would use if we had a choice about it.
Instead of focusing on such short-term benefits we have to look at the bigger picture and the myriad of industries that can be built on top of the availability of VoIP. It is ridiculous to think that we can become a ‘knowledge-based economy’ when a primary pillar for communicating knowledge via the internet, voice, is not allowed to be used in the country just because that will be detrimental to the margins of telecom companies.