Skype Eyes Strong Growth In Mideast, Africa

Voice-over-internet phone provider Skype is eyeing strong growth in the Middle East, a region with a young population and rising internet penetration, the group’s regional head said Tuesday.

Rouzbeh Pasha, the regional head of the Luxembourg-based company for the Middle East and Africa said the group, which offers free internet phone calls, is to open an office in the Middle East by the end of the year and is in talks with major telecoms firms in the region to form partnerships.

“Infrastructure is improving in the region and more people are accessing the internet, which makes it quite interesting for us,” Pasha told Zawya Dow Jones in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in Doha.

He said Skype, which posted $718 million revenue last year, was “reaching out” to telecom partners in the Middle East to explore ways it could be used on mobile phones and looking into Skype credits which could be purchased so users can call landlines and mobiles using the software.

“We are looking at how you can use Skype on your mobile device and how we can bond our services with their (the operators’) services,” Pasha said.

“You can use Skype to call a normal number. When you put in that number we hand over our online traffic to a telco company. We would pay them for this service,” he added.

Skype recently signed a deal with U.S carrier Verizon and in 2006 formed a tie-up with European operator 3 –which is part of Hong Kong-based Hutchinson.

Mohammed Gheyath, the executive director of the United Arab Emirates Telecommunication Regulatory Authority said last month Skype will be allowed to offer a greater range of services in the country if they are partnered with existing licensed telecom operators.

Skype’s chief executive Josh Silverman told a media summit in Abu Dhabi in March that the company was open to discussions with the U.A.E. government over its ban on access to its service, a move that he described as “shortsighted” for a country built as a trade and immigration hub.

Currently, Skype can’t be downloaded in Oman, the U.A.E and Kuwait, although the software can be used if it is previously installed on a computer.

“If you look at the bigger Middle East region it’s a very small part where you can’t access Skype,” said Pasha. “The site has been restricted for a while and we’ve still reached our numbers.”

Skype makes it money from licensing, advertising and the sale of phone credits to enable users of the software to call land lines and mobiles.

( Dow Jones )

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