Wednesday, October 19, 2011

VOIP underground market flourishes under Omantel's block of Skype

Oman is one of a handful of countries that blocks Skype. Skype is a peer-to-peer phone service using an internet dialer. Even Oman's neighbor KSA allows Skype and does not consider it against the social, cultural and religious morals of the country. It appears the block's rational is based upon keeping up Omantel's profit margin.

Many low-wage expat workers are in need of inexpensive international phone service to keep in touch with their loved ones abroad. It is seemingly unfair these expats have to spend 10-20 OMR ($25 - $50) per month out of their 65-90 OMR ($169 - $234) salary on phone service to chat with their families and friends residing outside of Oman. A call to India is about 50 cents (200 baiza) peak time per minute according to Omantel's rates. So, if an expat called his family for 20 minutes per week in India, he would spend about $40 or 25% of his salary on telephone expense.

Hence, an underground market for VOIP phone service has developed and is flourishing in the Sultanate.  Selling alternate VOIP service has become a source of  "under the table" secondary income for many of the expat workers. One building cleaner I knew increased his salary by 50 OMR per month through sale of these services.

Many internet cafes have login codes for these VOIP dialers (they are printed on snippets of paper generally out of sight which you can discreetly request from the guy working there) for sale for at a cost of 3-4 OMR that give you about 12 hours international talk time. These login details work with VOIP dialers that can be downloaded to one's computer. Some of the dialers work on mobile phones with an operating system. Some common dialers which may work despite the block are:
  • MubarakTalk /
  • SwissVOIZ /
  • Viber / - 'Viber is an application for iPhone®, Android™, Windows Phone and Blackberry phones that lets you make free phone calls to anyone that also has the application installed.'
  • Gmail Voice/Hangouts / Works as of 2013
Pay VPN Services:

An alternate method to reach VOIP phone service such as Skype is to go through a proxy server. 
  • Http://  /  IMO Instant Messenger / Login and chat on Skype  Update: Microsoft (owns IMO) decided to not allow Skype due to competition in 2013.
  • UltraSurf /   or search for "ultrasurf" keyword in Google to get an alternate download site if the main site is blocked. It is about a one megabyte program. After connecting to the proxy, it is possible to connect to Skype or view other blocked sites in the Sultanate. These types of proxies were possibly created with the assistance of governments.

    'The tool was originally designed for internet users in Mainland China, where the internet is heavily censored and internet users' activities monitored. With the advent of Ultrasurf and other circumvention tools, these internet users are provided a lifeline to access and share information freely. After nearly a decade of development, our technology has proven extremely resilient and adaptable in the face of increasingly advanced censorship techniques and aggressive blocking attempts.'
  • Many company's have their own virtual tunnels which also seem to break the block if you are logged on.
In addition, it is possible to purchase an international SIM card (such as OneSim / which works in multiple countries through the internet.  Generally, the international rates are lower through this type of SIM card.

I sincerely hope the Sultanate of Oman will lift the block on Skype and on other censored sites on the basis that Oman considers itself to be a more open country (Oman is one of three countries worldwide that blocks Skype) and is currently spending billions to develop integrated tourism complexes (ITCs) along the Omani coast. It would be a step in the right direction for the country in opening for international tourism and in being more friendly towards international visitors and residents, as well as, in being a gesture of good will. Or, in alternate, provide a VOIP phone service for a reasonable cost through the local carriers.

Most of those who would use Skype are currently using other cheaper services either legally or illegally and have rejected Omani phone carrier service for this purpose. Last September, Omanis staged a "do not use Omantel for the whole day" in protest to Omantel's pricing policies publicized on SablatOman forum. I am not sure how successful it was; however, Omantel ran quite a few promotions that week.

Update 2013: Nawras is now offering international service through VOIP for 30% off - dial 0902 before the number and charging a rate of 49 bz per minute anywhere in the world between 8pm and 10 pm. Omantel has a similiar special. Omantel has unblocked Google Voice.

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  1. I really admire this, I mean it really looks interesting! Very nice write up. Anyways, its a Great post.

  2. Yeah they should unblock the Skype , it's great opportunity to do business here in oman, we could do so many Skype conferences and bring more business into oman, but they only thinking to make money now on phone calls, they don't think for their future, more business will be here much better for omais, well strange why it is like this...They think they are smart and loosing good opportunities, in Dubai is so much business also because of Skype. ..
    Well what to do..