Internet and mobile communications in the UAE

Published on April 17, 2018

Internet and mobile communications in the UAE

    I will describe briefly the state and some features of the telecommunications services market in the UAE. I do not pretend to consider my post an exhaustive report, I just cite my observations. I arrived in the country in October 2017, so I have data only for a short period of time. Who cares - welcome under cat.


    The telecommunications services market in the UAE is divided between two large companies: the oldest and largest Etisalat, the former absolute monopolist until 2006, and the younger, smaller company, Du.

    In fact, there is no competition between these companies, since the market is geographically divided and both companies are largely owned by the state. The headquarters of Etisalat is in Abu Dhabi, and the headquarters of Du, as you might guess, is in Dubai. Du has its own mobile base station network, while the cable infrastructure for the Internet is mostly owned by Etisalat.

    Of the smaller operators in the market, the international operator Virgin Mobile has recently been introduced. Etisalat also has a Swyp subsidiary, offering mobile Internet service plans and a Wi-Fi access point network.

    Mobile communications and tariffs

    Immediately after arriving in the UAE, I decided to get my own mobile number and internet access, so as not to be tied to the access point in the hotel. The first thing went to Etisalat for the tariff package. Unfortunately, six months ago I did not save tariff data. It seems to me that now in many tariff plans the amount of traffic has become more.

    Let's see what tariff plans there are at the moment. Local currency prices are the United Arab Emirates Dirham, the official designation is AED. Dirham to USD: 3.66 AED = 1 USD.

    Tourist rates Etisalat and Du

    If you come as a tourist, then perhaps you will come in handy guest rate plan. It will cost about 55 dirhams per week, up to 100 in two weeks. The amount of packet data is small.

    Tourist rates

    As you can see, tourist rates are not very generous. Recently, friends came to visit me, it turned out to be more profitable for them to use roaming Ukrainian operators.

    Communication for regular subscribers

    If you need a permanent connection, you can choose among various options of prepaid and contractual tariffs. Fees range from 50 AED to 1000 AED per month. The volume of packet data from 500 MB to 100 GB per month. In addition, the tariff package may include minutes for calls within the country, minutes for international calls, “flexible minutes” (for calls within the country and international calls to a wide range of countries) and access time to Wi-Fi points in public places. About unlimited mobile Internet here it is not yet.

    In order not to feel badly hurt and to have several gigabytes of mobile traffic per month, you will have to pay about 150 AED (40 USD). A connection fee is also charged. To use the minimum tariff for 50 AED, 55 AED had to be paid for the connection. It's funny, but even after that I couldn’t call a taxi by phone, as calls to toll numbers are charged separately and do not include “flexible minutes”.

    If you buy a SIM card, do not forget to take a document with you: either a passport or an Emirates ID. A very important point: your number here is yours for a long time, the law obliges operators to keep your number behind you when changing your service provider if you want to exercise this right.

    Prepaid Plans for Etisalat, Du and Virgin Mobile



    Virgin mobile

    The Virgin Mobile operator is represented only by prepaid plans. To become their client, you need to install the application, select a phone number, draw up a tariff plan, order a SIM card that the Indian courier will deliver to you on a motorcycle within an hour.

    Contract Tariff Plans

    If you need a contract tariff plan, then keep in mind that the typical contract term here is 24 months.



    Home Internet and tariffs

    Internet access services for home users are usually provided along with IPTV and a wired home phone. When connected, you get an access point branded by a Wi-Fi provider (in my case it is D-Link DIR-850L), a TV-Box and a regular phone with a cordless handset. Tariff plans without additional services do not allow to save significantly, while much less convenient.



    As you can see, the prices are high, and the speed is not very. So a basic service package with a connection speed of 20 Mbit / s costs 360 AED per month (100 USD), for an additional 100 AED per month you can take a “speed booster” which increases the connection speed, for example, from 20 to 50 Mbit / s, from 50 up to 100 Mbps, respectively. Upload speed on most tariffs is 20-25% of download speed.

    The connection contract also has a term of 24 months, in case of early disconnection before the expiration of the first 2 years you will have to pay a penalty. But the operators offer the possibility of transferring the contract to a new address, if there is their network there, so it is not necessary to terminate the contract with the provider when changing the place of residence within the country.


    Internet providers in the UAE block access to a number of resources. Most of the restrictions are dictated by legislation, but there is also the “initiative” of providers.

    What is forbidden and blocked in accordance with the law

    - Sites of undesirable political organizations.
    - Pornosites and their equivalents are prohibited by law, as pornography is contrary to the state religion.
    - Some other sites there are also not welcome. It is curious that even VK is open, but internal videos from VK are blocked. I believe that the reason for this is in the previous paragraph.

    So here is censorship.

    - Audio and video calls over the Internet through VoIP applications are blocked. In the UAE, there is a law, following which, the provision of telecommunications services is licensed. In turn, Internet calls are equated to this type of service. So calls to Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and other programs are blocked. However, in the chat mode and the transfer of multimedia messages, all these applications work without problems. Please note that FaceTime on the iPhone and iPad is not available in devices for the local market and is not directly installed via the AppStore.

    Search engines give out information that previously only calls from applications to landline and mobile phones were blocked, but now all calls from application to application are blocked. Interestingly, until the very end of 2017, Skype was an exception when using a fixed connection.

    It is possible that at the airports and hotels there are some indulgences. For example, some say that Skype calls work in hotels.

    At the same time, video chat rooms in online games also came under the distribution.

    A spokesman for the Emirates Safer Internet Society explains that these locks are aimed at ensuring the safety and protection of children from various threats on the Internet. And he has no intention to lift these restrictions, as encrypted online calls will serve crime and antisocial elements. Somewhere we have heard of this. But in neighboring Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2017 a similar restriction was lifted.

    - Regarding the use of VPN, the position of UAE Cybercrime Law and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is that these services are legal in themselves, but using them to circumvent the restrictions would be a serious violation.

    Amateur providers

    The situation with the torrents is ambiguous. On the one hand, the law in the UAE does not prohibit the technology of torrents, leaving the question of copyright compliance with the conscience of users. On the other hand, some Etisalat customers complained about the inability to download torrents at some time of the day. In turn, Du's clients write that they have no such problem. At least at my moment the torrents are working. As far as I know, in many countries, providers dislike torrents and engage in such amateur activities.

    Also a few years earlier, Du users reported that their HD video on YouTube slows down, although the connection speed is higher than necessary, while Etisalat didn’t have such a problem.

    Not without curiosities. For example, the website was blocked for a while, although the Instagram application worked through its API. It's funny, since many government organizations and even members of the royal families of the Emirates keep their official pages on Instagram in the UAE.

    Etisalat and Du also offer two applications designed specifically for TRA requirements for Internet calls: BOTIM and C'Me. Formally, on Google Play and the AppStore, these applications are free and claim free calls. After launch, both applications offer to purchase Internet Calling Plan costing 50 AED per month for a mobile subscriber or 100 AED per month for a fixed connection, otherwise calls will not be provided.

    Judging by the feedback from users, these programs are far from perfect, and everything else also shows ads. Also, these two applications violate the rules of GooglePlay and AppStore, demanding to pay for a subscription by a third-party path instead of regular payment tools.

    Screenshots from BOTIM and C'Me

    Fighting crime in communications

    In local news, you can often read the warnings about active in the moment of fraudulent SMS and WhatsApp-newsletters. Operators and law enforcement agencies are making efforts to combat such activities, so if you are a victim of an offense on the Internet or using other means of communication, please contact the police.

    The UAE government calls not to spread false rumors, not to slander people and not to voice conflicting and offensive speeches on social networks. To criticize the government is also not worth it.

    Quality of service

    Despite the above limitations, the quality of the services provided is quite high (of course, at such prices). Operators in the UAE do not stint on a good infrastructure for fixed and mobile networks. So in the house where I live in each apartment comes from the provider GPON, and further on rooms the twisted pair is divorced. The wires are neatly hidden in the walls, and the Ethernet sockets peep out of the walls.

    The Emirates met me with fast LTE, when LTE was not yet supported in Ukraine. The quality of voice calls is also high, especially surprised by the signal Etisalat even in a multi-level underground parking of the residential complex. Du works well too, but with him problems with reception inside buildings are more pronounced, at least in Abu Dhabi. Virgin Mobile works like Du, as it is a Du-based virtual operator.

    Communication hall of a dwelling house, view from the street. Pay attention to cleanliness and order.

    The base station operator Du in the form of palm trees.

    Summing up, we can say that the Internet and mobile communications in the UAE are expensive and with some restrictions. At the same time, the services provided are of high quality, and the personnel of operators treats the client with due attention and respect.