Digicel, LIME follow through on VoIP blockade
Richard Browne, Business Reporter
Following its weekend warning, Digicel Jamaica has now blocked Viber and other unlicensed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services in this market.
LIME Jamaica also confirmed that it has blocked Viber.
"Effective immediately unlicensed number based VoIP services are blocked on the Digicel network," Digicel told its customers in a text message on Monday.
"Unlicensed VoIP operators like Viber and Numbuzz use telecoms networks to deliver their services but do not pay the requisite money for the privilege," the Digicel text said.
LIME, which is collaborating with Digicel on tackling the issue of illegal bypass, reacted quickly to the Digicel lead.
"We are currently reviewing all VoIP services and will let our customers know in due course," Carlo Redwood, vice-president of marketing, said later on Monday. But that position changed to action by Tuesday.
"In order to maintain network quality for our customers, LIME confirms it has been reviewing unauthorised access to its networks," LIME said in a statement. "As part of the review, LIME will no longer carry Viber voice calling on its networks."
VoIP services allow customers to make free calls or send free text messages to other customers that share the service.
The services, however, impact earnings from voice calls and SMS text messaging, which remain the bread and butter revenue for mobile telecoms networks.
"An issue unique to the telecoms industry is over-the-top applications such as WhatsApp and Skype which erode our voice and text revenues," Barry O'Brien, CEO of Digicel Jamaica said at a Rotary Club function in Kingston on June 12.
Viber, while not as well known in Jamaica as WhatsApp, has more than 280 million users in 193 countries. It is estimated that about 100 million people use the service each month.
The company was created in Israel and operates mainly out of Cyprus and Belarus. It was recently bought by Japanese e-retailer Rakuten for US$900 million.
Digicel says it has between 940,000 and a million customers using mobile data each month.
"Digicel believes that this unauthorised use of its network amounts to illegal bypass activity," the company said in its text message on Monday.
The VoIP services are suspended while Digicel hold discussions with providers regarding formal business arrangements.
The talks "are ongoing and we are hopeful these measures will be temporary," the company said.
Neither Digicel nor Viber responded to questions up to press time.
Over in Haiti, where Digicel also suspended unlicensed VoIP services last week, the blockade has faced some objection from a protest site, which raised more than 400 signatures shortly after the announcement.