5 expats arrested in crackdown against Internet calls

Updated 13 June 2013

5 expats arrested in crackdown against Internet calls

The Saudi government, local telecommunications companies and the country’s regulatory authority have started cracking down on expatriates using software to make unauthorized cheap calls home on the Internet.
The Jeddah police recently arrested five Indians in a house for selling expatriates Internet telephone cards.
This comes just over a week after the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) banned the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) firm Viber in the country. Reports stated that the ban was because the three telecom operators — STC, Zain and Mobily — were losing millions in revenue.
The CITC has also stated that it may take action against other Internet companies offering free or cheap voice, text and audio messaging on the Internet, including Skype and Tango.
The telecom providers and Internet service providers are believed to be using VoIP blocking software to protect their revenues by preventing Internet-based VoIP traffic from running on their networks.
There are no specific regulations over the use of VoIP software in Saudi Arabia and this gray area has led to confusion. According to the VoIP regulatory framework, set by the CITC, all telecom operators can offer Internet telephony services in Saudi Arabia, but none of them does so.
However, the regulations state that it is forbidden to use unauthorized methods to make phone calls. Saudi Arabia is one of two countries in the Gulf region that have tolerated a VoIP culture, while other countries have dealt severely with offenders.
The majority of expatriates from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, use the Internet to talk to their families and friends back home using the software on their smart phones or computers. Many are not even aware that it is illegal. They have almost abandoned calling through the local telecom operators.
Because of the cheap and illegal VoIP calls to Asian countries, Saudi telecom companies often offer special discounts, sometimes reducing overseas calls by 50 percent, at 55 halalas a minute, to most of these countries.
In recent times, the authorities have started cracking down on VoIP systems, closing down Internet cafes and targeting individuals offering these services.
A popular call application that dominated the Saudi market for nearly a decade, which can still be easily installed on any mobile device with an advanced operating system, was blocked by local authorities.
Two other popular applications, one using data SIM cards and the other operating on computers and wireless systems, have also been blocked.
Arab News has learned that the authorities are monitoring all markets where these Internet calling cards are sold, resulting in prices doubling. A 700-minute calling card used to be sold for SR 35. A 350-minute card now sells for SR 60.
Saudi police have arrested five Indians Sulaiman Kardan, Naushad Kardan, Jalil Kardan, Shakeer Noramochi and Ashraf Noramochi, who were running a VoIP calling business in Jeddah. After monitoring them for some time, the police raided their house in Azizia district in Jeddah in the early morning hours and arrested them. The police seized cards valued at SR 23,000, according to sources close to the arrested persons.
Jeddah police spokesperson Lt. Nawaf Al-Bouq said the police raids are being carried out with the aid of the CITC.
The CITC's spokesperson Sultan Al-Malik said that Asian countries have also cracked down on overseas incoming VoIP calls because these calls are evading mandatory landing tax. Telecom operators such as STC, Mobily and Zain all pay mandatory landing tax to telecom authorities in Asian countries whereas VoIP operators do not pay any such tax.
In India, both leading private telecom operators are not allowing any VoIP calls on their networks, in contrast to the country’s public sector telecoms provider, BSNL, and other private operators.
India's intelligence agencies are opposing the mushrooming VoIP incoming calls from Middle East countries.

Pakistan’s telecom authorities and federal law enforcement agencies have effectively curbed the practice of VoIP calls and arrested several people in this regard.
Bangladesh has banned the practice. The Bangladesh telecoms authority's international revenue has surged by more than 80 percent from the increasing landing tax on international incoming calls. Nepal has also cracked down on this practice.


Startup of the Week: Wayakit, the biotech firm helping travelers beat odors and stains

Updated 10 December 2019

Startup of the Week: Wayakit, the biotech firm helping travelers beat odors and stains

  • Wayakit leaves the clothes clean and fresh again

JEDDAH: Wayakit is a biotechnology start-up incubated by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

KAUST Ph.D students Sandra Medina and Luisa Javier are avid travelers who have come up with a pocket-sized product that deals with both odors and stains on fabrics, leaving the cloths clean and fresh again.

Wayakit is also gentler on fabrics because traditional laundry eventually damages them, said Javier, who first moved to Saudi Arabia from Mexico ten years ago.

Her business partner, Sandra Medina, who came from Colombia to study at KAUST, explained to Arab News how Wayakit works. “You just spray the smelly area twice and you’re good to go. In the case of stains, you spray twice and then pat dry it with a tissue and it will disappear,” she said.

The idea for the product came during a trip for a conference two years ago when the travelers realized their luggage was lost “We had to present with our dirty, seven-hours’ flight clothes,” Javier told Arab News.

“We started looking into the possibility then, because there’s not a proper solution to doing laundry while traveling,” she said.

 

They decided they needed to come up with a product that was not pricey, was easy to carry, and did the job by removing stains and bad odors “on-the-go.”

 

 

The duo began by interviewing more than 100 travelers of 23 different nationalities to find out if this was a common issue that travelers struggled with.

 

“From the Entrepreneurship Center at KAUST, we learned the importance of listening first to the customers before designing any product,” said Medina. From these interviews, Wayakit team got the product requirements and then moved into the lab to start working on the formulation of Wayakit. “The amazing facilities and labs in KAUST helped us to speed up the creation of our first prototype. After this, the same KAUST community was the people who first tried Wayakit and gave us feedback. “In KAUST we do not only have state-of-the-art labs, but also a whole entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Medina added.

Wayakit is different from its competitors in that it contains no toxic chemicals, and covers a broader spectrum in covering stains — it is two products in one. It also contains anti-bacterial properties, acting as a sanitizer that “removes all the stains that occur on a day-to-day basis as well as being an odor remover,” Javier said.

The pair went for a biotechnology-based formula that excluded the usage of oxidizers and focused on more organic compounds. “Even the anti-bacterial properties are not toxic as we incorporated these in an environmentally friendly formulation,” she said.

The Wayakit founders had to rigorously test their product, dealing with different types of sweat and stains to perfect their spray. “We had to give testers to travelers to try it out and had to listen to their feedback, then went back to the lab to improve it, in order to make sure the product was as promised.”

Medina said KAUST’s mentorship had also helped their company to develop. “KAUST for us is a catalyst of entrepreneurship and has given us a lot of room to grow our start-up Wayakit,” she said.

KAUST helped Wayakit by giving the advice and support from the start. From entrepreneurial courses to teaching the concepts of building a brand, KAUST encouraged Wayakit to grow from a scientific outlook and helped the founders to better understand the customer.

“As foreigners, it was difficult for us to understand the logistics and procurement of shipping and importing here in Saudi Arabia. KAUST has helped us to face that hurdle in order to be able to reach all our clients in the MENA region and worldwide,” Medina said. “Beyond helping travellers, our mission is to change the way how laundry is commonly done. We found a way to effectively wash clothes reducing water and energy consumption,” Javier said. 

Wayakit has recently began selling in Jeddah’s Homegrown Market, chosen because it is “a Middle Eastern brand store with unique ambience,” said Medina.