Egypt's largest mobile service provider is raising questions about the legality of WhatsApp's free voice-calling feature due to be released later this year.
In a letter to Egypt’s telecommunications regulator circulated on social media on Monday, Vodafone Egypt inquired about the legality of Whatsapp Voice service.
Egypt’s government has previously stated it was considering banning popular free messaging and international calling smartphone applications WhatsApp and Viber, on “security” as well “financial” considerations.
"In line with the global industry trends, illegal VoIP (routing calls over the internet such as via Skype and Viber) has had a negative impact on telecom operators' profits in recent years due to the loss of international voice calling traffic to the benefit of OTT players such as Skype and Viber," says Omar Maher, telecoms' analyst at Cairo-based investment firm EGF-Hermes.
Mobile phone penetration currently surpasses 110 percent in the country of 90 million, with Vodafone Egypt having the largest share of subscriptions, according to the latest publically available data.
In January 2015, WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook for $22 billion last October, reported hitting 700 million monthly active users worldwide.
Egypt's law governing telecommunications stipulates that international VoIP services are illegal, an informed Vodafone source told Ahram Online.
One article of the law prohibits establishing or operating telecommunication services and by-passing international telephone calls without obtaining a license from the regulator.
Existing mobile operators have a Class A license that allows them to offer VoIP services inside Egypt only, according to the regulator's website.
But mobile operators allow VoIP access via their data networks to capture back some of the value lost from the impact of illegal VoIP on their international voice calling profits, says Maher.
Vodafone has not yet decided what action it will take if the regulator confirms that Whatsapp Voice is illegal, said the company source.