It all started in the first week of January 2016, when internet users all over the country had issues making calls through free applications such as Skype, Viber, Tango, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp using their 3G and 4G internet connections.
A few days later the Moroccan telecommunications regulation agency, the ANRT, made an official statement confirming that the most widely-used voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services would be blocked by the three Moroccan telecom service providers.
This decision was approved by Maroc Telecom, Méditel (Orange) and Inwi, who have mutually agreed to block all VoIP calls made through 3G and 4G, and to expand these restrictions to calls made through wireless connections.
Needless to say that the ban received a significant negative reaction from Moroccans and expatriates who have been using these internet call services for personal or professional purposes.
But let’s take a step back and understand what VoIP is, and what could be the effect of these limitations on a macro level.
VoIP is a phone service transmitted over a digital network. This technology is commonly used for voice, video and data conferencing and quickly became popular because of the lower cost (compared to traditional phone calls) and convenience thanks to its functionality.
VoIP services are cost effective and allow both corporate and individual customers to operate calls while avoiding costs incurred using traditional phone services.
According to a market report published by Transparency Market Research, the global VoIP services market was valued at US$70.9bn in 2013 and is expected to reach $136.76bn by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 9.7% from 2014 to 2020.
This trend has led to a decline in prices for basic voice and data services and had a huge impact on generated revenues for the global telecom industry. Indeed, according to research published by Ovum in 2014, the industry will lose a combined $386bn between 2012 and 2018.
Concerning consumers, the use of VoIP will grow at an annual rate of 20% between 2012 and 2018 to reach 1.7 trillion minutes. This global demand will be sustained thanks to internet penetration, development of wireless devices and continuous prevalence of social media.
While some companies have been trying to deal with the increasing growth of VoIP apps worldwide by adjusting to their customers’ needs and building new innovative approaches (i.e. Swisscom has launched new mobile tariffs with unlimited national voice, SMS), many have attributed the loss of revenues to the increasing use of VoIP apps, which led many countries to block these services.
What is the regulatory framework in Morocco?
In 2004, the Moroccan regulator (ANRT) published a regulatory article (ANRT/N° 04-04) to frame the general use of VoIP in the country, asserting that: “A licence is required for the provision of any VoIP service. Therefore, only the licensed public telecom operators can provide VoIP services.”
VoIP was since subjected to its own set of regulations in the country when the ANRT published an official statement announcing that all telecom services need licences, whether they are VoIP or others. However this law was not effective until 7 January 2016.
The ANRT stated: “In addition to the losses for the telecoms national market, the free internet voice calls do not respond to the required legal gateway, therefore their suspension came in conformity with the operators’ obligations that were underlined in their licenses.”
Furthermore, another regulatory article (ANRT/N° 83/24-96) related to telecommunications states that: “It is forbidden to use a telecommunication network without a license…”
While VoIP has not yet been made illegal in the country, it is clear that ANRT regulation will try to maintain limitations concerning mobile apps use. The main reasons highlighted remains the non-conformity to the regulatory framework and absence of licence permits of mobile apps such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype.
The real impact of the VoIP ban cannot be measured yet, however, we can still assume that the Moroccan economy could be directly affected by this decision on many levels.
Morocco has launched various economic and industrial programmes aimed at developing six key sectors: offshoring, automobile, textile, food industry, electronic and aeronautic.
The offshoring sector is dedicated to the promotion of the country as an attractive destination for outsourcing services, including call centres, many of which are depending on VoIP services.
The ban of VoIP apps could impact the operating costs of companies in the sector and decrease the competitive advantage of the country in terms of telecom prices.
While this decision can still be considered as legal, it might represent a step backward for the development of the country.
Mounia Bendraoui is senior analyst at Infomineo
Infomineo is a business research company, focusing on Africa and the Middle East. The company provides its clients, including the majority of the leading global management consulting firms and several Fortune Global 500 companies, with ad hoc data on countries, markets, companies and people gathered through primary and secondary research. For more information please contact[email protected] or visit www.infomineo.com.