In a letter to Egypt’s telecommunications regulator, Vodafone Egypt has inquired about the legality of WhatsApp’s free voice-calling feature, which is due to be released later this year. The government previously stated that it was considering banning popular OTT messaging and calling services such as WhatsApp and Viber, for reasons for security as well as because of financial considerations. According to Egyptian telecommunications law, international VoIP services are illegal. One article of the law prohibits establishing or operating telecommunication services without obtaining a license from the country’s regulator. Existing mobile operators are licensed to offer VoIP services only within Egypt.
This case indicates one avenue of approach for MNOs seeking to counter the OTT challenge—legal action. In the Egyptian regulator, Vodafone has likely found a particularly receptive audience, as the country’s law is notably unfriendly to VoIP. One may not want to generalize too much from this case, as the legal systems of other countries may not be so draconian on the subject; however, WhatsApp’s potential difficulties in that market expose a certain weakness of OTTs in their global struggle to take market share away from MNOs, which have greater government protection than apps do.