Prior to New Year's eve, no one would have imagined we'd reach a global crisis just a few weeks into 2020 — a despised year by many. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced companies, people, and countries to take serious measures to restrict the virus from further spreading. These include halting flights, encouraging remote work, closing schools, and adapting e-learning to avoid affecting the learning outcomes of students.
But would you have thought to see the removal of bans on certain apps in Oman? Well, it's happening.
Oman has lifted restraints on internet tools such as Skype for Business, Google Meet, and Zoom to help companies and schools navigate their way through this tough time. So instead of having students/employees meet in person, they can hold remote meetings and classes without face-to-face contact.
The decision was made "due to exceptional circumstances," the Gulf state’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) wrote in a tweet.
In 2012, Oman's telecom authorities reportedly unblocked some voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. At the time, sites such as Google Talk, Viber, FaceTime, and MSN Messenger were accessible by residents of the country; Skype, however, was not. There was no official announcement made by the TRA at the time.
Some Gulf states regulate the use of video calling services due to the fact that they are encrypted. This means that security services cannot track the activity taking place on those apps. Some of these internet calling applications are directly competing with local telecom providers.
Oman's neighbor, the UAE, is yet to lift its ban on VoIP services. Popular video calling apps such as Skype, WhatsApp call, and FaceTime are officially blocked in the UAE. Applications such as C'Me or BOTIM are available for residents in the Emirati nation and many telecom providers support these apps by offering affordable packages to encourage the use of these services. Last month, there were rumors that the country's authorities were changing their VoIP rules. However, the country's TRA clarified that no reforms had been made.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, scrapped its ban on internet calling applications in September 2017, according to The National, though features like WhatsApp call remain blocked.