Saudi Arabia lifted a ban implemented in 2013 on online calling services and social media apps including Skype, WhatsApp and Snapchat, provided they meet its regulatory requirements.
The move is considered to be part of the country’s strategy to look to the internet for more sources of revenue as oil prices plummet.
In a statement, the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission said: “digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivise the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries”.
“Access to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) will reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship – that’s why it is such an important step in the Kingdom’s internet regulation,” it added.
Authorities will continue to restrict online content around extremist material, pornography and gambling.
The lifting of the ban is expected to impact operators Saudi Telecom Company, Mobily and Zain, which earn revenue from international calls and texts made by the millions of expatriates living in the country.
Reuters quoted Iyad Ghulam, a senior analyst at Saudi Arabia-based NCB Capital, as saying operators could be looking at a revenue loss of 6 per cent to 7 per cent on international calls, but higher demand for data should make up for at least some of that.
“This move is basically telling these companies: You have to move on. Stop protecting your voice segment and move on,” he said.