UAE telecoms operator Etisalat will offer internet-based phone calls by the end of the second quarter, a top executive told Reuters.
In the UAE, only Etisalat and du are licenced for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services - free Internet-to-Internet calls and cheap Internet-to-phone calls - and both have yet to do so as they try to maximise earnings from conventional calls.
Global market leader Skype is among the foreign VoIP providers officially banned.
In October, Etisalat unveiled plans to offer VoIP as part of its ePlus mobile platform that will likely include social networking, internet browsing and instant messaging, but six months later its customers are still waiting.
Essa Haddad, Etisalat's chief commercial officer, said "we are talking about quarter two, 2012", when Reuters asked when the company would launch international VoIP services.
Haddad declined to indicate how much cheaper Etisalat's VoIP calls would be compared with its usual international tariffs.
"Any price change has to be (approved) by the regulator and that's why it's taking time because we need to get this finalised," he told Reuters.
Previously, the telecoms regulator has indicated it would not allow significantly cheaper VoIP tariffs.
Faced with this challenge, Etisalat has bet its ePlus platform will improve customer loyalty and stem the flow of subscribers to du, which has built up an estimated 46 per cent share of mobile subscribers since launching services in 2007.
Etisalat, which operates in 17 markets, has reported declining earnings in seven of the past eight quarters, with the rise of du and VoIP key factors in this slump.
The firm derived 74 per cent of its revenue and 97 per cent of net profit from the UAE in 2011, according to a presentation to analysts.