June 05, 2011
More than nine months have passed since the Telecom Regulation Authority (TRA) published its draft regulations on the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) by consumers and businesses. These regulations will totally ban the use of VPN by consumers, and will allow businesses to use it only after acquiring a license from TRA.
However, it is still not known why the regulations are not out yet. It could be that the issue is no longer a priority for the TRA, or maybe they realised that issuing licenses for all these companies would be an unjustified hassle for the authority – we just don’t know.
It has to be pointed out, though, that any use of VPN could already be considered a violation of the current Telecommunications Law, because the law prohibits the use of any encrypted communications method without providing the authority with the tools to decrypt it, but obviously the TRA does not go out of its way to enforce that provision.
On a note related to the most common use for VPN in Oman, Microsoft recently made the news for its acquisition of Skype – the popular provider for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Microsoft has not announced any of its plans for Skype yet, or how it will integrate it into any of its products.
I thought this acquisition of Skype by Microsoft was interesting, especially for Omani consumers, as that makes it more likely for Skype to be unbanned in the country. VoIP as a technology is not technically banned in the sultanate, but it is a service that can only be offered after acquiring a license from the TRA.
Microsoft already has an office in Oman and has relationships with the Omani government for licensing Microsoft products such as Windows and Office for use in government offices, schools and hospitals. It is much more likely for Microsoft to consider satisfying the licensing requirements for offering VoIP services in Oman than it was for Skype to do it on its own.
Microsoft will surely try its best to make all its services available to every single market it has access to if it wants to take VoIP seriously. And it will surely take it seriously, after paying a hefty US$8.5bn for Skype.
The cynics among you would dismiss this possibility and argue that TRA would somehow find any reason not to allow Microsoft to offer VoIP services in Oman, just like it has done with the rest. But TRA cannot treat Microsoft the same way it treats other companies. For example, there is no way it can block the Microsoft website like it does the Skype website.
Sooner or later, the TRA will have to realise that VoIP is an integral part of the Internet, and Oman cannot even try to transform itself into a knowledge based society without the technology. Let’s just hope that Microsoft can help us explain that to the TRA.