Saudi Arabia's telecoms regulator, the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is said to be blocking WhatsApp's recently added feature of free VoIP calls to protect service providers' competitiveness, Al Watan has reported.
The Arabic news site said that service providers such as Mobily and STC are to request from the CITC to implement a block on VoIP calls in WhatsApp on mobile networks, so that these companies are able to protect their competitiveness and rights which are threatened with losses due to free calls.
The new service is also said to have been blocked in the UAE by telecoms provider Etisalat.
This move comes after an earlier report that the CITC decided to reduce call rates for mobiles and landlines by 40% in anticipation of this change, a decision that was expected to encourage mobile phone users to talk for longer durations.
Arab News said that around 15% of smart phones users in the Kingdom already make free calls using various social networking apps on their smart phones. Moreover, several smart phone users do not care to recharge their mobile credit for this reason when they travel outside the Kingdom, preferring to make free calls through their social apps depending on Wifi hotspots which are available throughout hotels and restaurants abroad.
"The new WhatsApp service will surely encourage smart phone users to change from sending messages to making free calls, as WhatsApp is considered to be the most circulated social application among Saudis and expatriates. Indeed, no one uses a smart phone these days without downloading this social application," Emad Eskandar, social media director at a company for digital services told Arab News.
"There are several social apps on smart phones that provide free calls to their users, but these apps did not have the same success as WhatsApp."