The United Arab Emirates have two network providers:
The first MVNO Virgin Mobile is about to launch on du network in 2017.
Both of them are partly state-owned. Etisalat is the biggest provider but is focused in recent times more to local landline customers while du is more geared to prepaid clients and tourists. Du and Etisalat have shops in the arrival halls of the airports of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where you can buy the SIM card right away or in major shopping malls. To keep the SIM active outside the UAE, Etisalat costs AED 4 to 8 per year, whereas Du costs AED 10 per year.
2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz up to DC-HSPA+. 4G/LTE is on 1800 MHz and open generally on Etisalat and partly on Du for prepaid. To purchase a SIM card, visitors must show their passport with visa or visa stamp. They will photocopy it in the store and do some paperwork, which can take a while.
The coverage of both operators is very good in the cities, populated areas and along the desert highways on 2G, 3G and even 4G, giving good speed and performance. 2017 will see the first MVNO staring with Virgin Mobile on the Du network.
Note that a number of websites which are considered as "offensive" are blocked and thus can't be accessed (directly). Use a VPN/proxy app or sofware.
VoIP calls still bannedEdit
Most popular VoIP services are blocked over mobile connections. Etisalat and Du are the only two operators licensed to provide VoIP services. Snapchat’s new voice and video calling feature was blocked upon its launch in 2016. Similarly, WhatsApp’s voice feature was blocked shortly after it was introduced in 2015. Two months after that, Facebook’s video-calling feature was also blocked. Similar products such as Viber or Apple’s Facetime have been banned since 2013. Skype has been only allowed to be used for text messages since 2013, not for voice or video calls. In fact, Apple agreed to sell its iPhone products to UAE mobile phone companies without the Facetime application preinstalled. Apple’s Facetime video-calling feature can only be used if the iPhone was purchased outside the country.
Despite these limitations, circumvention software and proxies are commonly used by Emiratis to access blocked content and VoIP services. The problem is that when you try to bypass the block by a free proxy/VPN app, the speed will drop and latency will increase so much, that it becomes useless. So when going to the UAE, you should consider installing a commercial VPN, if you rely on VoIP, but be aware of the law. The government cracked down in 2016 by adopting amendments to the Cybercrime Law that penalize the “illegal” use of VPNs with temporary imprisonment, fines of between US$136,000 and 545,000, or both.
Without the legal choice of VoIP, the UAE is presently one of the most expensive countries to call from internationally: a call to EU countries or the US will set you back more than 2 AED per minute with all providers on their standard rate. Recently, they have introduced some discounts for IDD calls, that are featured in the article, as an exception on this data WIKI because of the ongoing blockage.
EtisalatEditEtisalat is the biggest telco operator with the best mobile 3G and 4G coverage in the UAE. It's partly state owned and not so much focused on prepaid. Their new prepaid SIM however is open for 4G/LTE, already covering 90% of population.
With the relaunch of their prepaid card called Wasel finally affordable mobile internet packages are available by Etisalat. The (new) Wasel SIM is available for 55 AED as mini- and micro-SIM with a bonus of 1 AED valid for a day.
Recharges are by vouchers of 25, 50, 100, 200 or 500 AED using *120*<VoucherCode>#. Balance can be checked on USSD *121#
Subscription to Wasel is made on USSD *140# if not working from the start. The line remains open for at least 9 months and another 3 months incoming only, when not used and recharged.
The default data rate on Wasel is 1 AED per MB.
- daily plan:
- 100 MB for 5 AED, activation: SD
- 250 MB for 10 AED, activation: D250M
- weekly bundles:
- 100 MB: 15 AED, activation: W100M
- 500 MB: 35 AED, activation: W500M
- 1 GB: 50 AED, activation: W1G
- monthly packages:
- 250 MB: 30 AED, activation: 250M
- 1 GB: 100 AED, activation: 1G
- 3 GB: 150 AED, activation: 2G
- 5 GB: 200 AED, activation: 5G
- 7 GB: 250 AED, activation: 7G
- 10 GB: 300 AED, activation: 10G
- 20 GB: 450 AED, activation: 20G
For subscription you send a SMS containing the code to 1010 or enter *170# and choose the package. The weekly and monthly packs don't reduce speed beyond their data limit. But overuse is charged by 1 AED per MB. All mentioned plans won't auto-renew.
Data usage can be checked on USSD *170*1# free of charge. A SMS is sent when 80%, 90% and 100% of package are consumed.
For more data, you can add these data boosters on existing data packages:
- 100 MB: 20 AED, activation: ADD100M
- 500 MB: 40 AED, activation: ADD500M
- 1 GB: 60 AED, activation: ADD1G
Eligible on 1 GB or larger monthly data plans. Takes validity of the active plan. Multiple subscriptions are allowed.
In case you don't use your line for 3 consecutive months, then you would be charged 10 AED per quarter (once in 3 months) to remain in lifetime validity. In case you don't have 10 AED balance, your line will be moved to a time-based validity, in which you would have another 6 months to start using your line. If no usage is observed during this 6-month period, service will be temporarily withdrawn for a period of 3 months, and subsequently deactivated. So simply send a SMS every 1/2 year to maintain validity.
Visitor Line Edit
For AED 100 you get started with the Visitor Line and subscribe to any one of the below packs, It stays valid for 60 days and it can be extended for 90 more days by paying AED 10. You can recharge your visitor line with any voucher across 10,000 outlets
- talk, text & surf: 30 local & International minutes + 30 local & International SMS + 500 MB of mobile data
- surf: 1 GB of mobile data + 5 hours through Etisalat Wi-Fi
The Visitor Line packs are valid for 14 days and only the same packages as in the starter can be re-purchased for AED 75. To activate dial *101# or text VB1 for surf or VB3 for talk, text & surf to 1012.
Alernatively, you can migrate free of charge your Visitor Line to Wasel (see above) at any time. For more info please check the Etisalat mobile app or visit the nearest Etisalat outlet.
IDD rates Edit
Because of the blockage of VoIP (see Basics), internatl. call rates remain very high in the UAE. Etisalat introduced a new promotion called "call international, pay local" where a call to over 100 countries is charged at local rates of 0.36 AED plus a set-up fee of 1 AED. To join this promo, you need to dial *141#. It's only available for their Wasel prepaid line, not the Visitor line.
More information Edit
- APN: etisalat.ae
- Website in English: http://www.etisalat.ae/en/index.jsp
Du is the second largest mobile network operator in the United Arab Emirates and 39.5% state owned. Most visitors consider this network the more convenient choice for prepaid and tourists. 4G/LTE is partly open on prepaid but they enforce a weird 4G/LTE access policy: it will be only activated, if you have more than 1 GB data left on your prepaid account. Once it drops below 1 GB all 4G/LTE will stop working and you fall back to 3G.
Their SIM cards are available at the Du online shopto be sent to an UAE address. Offline in branded du shops (store locator) in shopping malls. Expect some waiting there. At the Abu Dhabi airport arrival hall and all terminals of Dubai airport. Expect some more waiting there. Mini-SIM (2FF), micro-SIM (3FF) and nano-SIM (4FF) are available.
To skip the lines most mini marts and supermarkets carry both the SIM and recharge vouchers. The activation may take a little longer than when purchasing from du shop as the retailer must send images of your passport to activate. Furthermore you can try Axiom, Fono, Eros and One Mobile shops and some other mobile phone shops
They have a choice of two different prepaid lines. The Tourist Plan is more for short-time tourists, while their regular pay as you go line is more for longer stays. The tourist lines haven proven to be unavailable at times. But when available, they might force every traveller on a tourist visa to get this plan and no other. Nevertheles, tourist plans are mostly better for short-term visitors, because of included data and IDD minutes:
- Pay as you go Plan: 55 AED for the starter pack: It contains 2 minutes (national and IDD to 100 countries) valid for only 1 day. This SIM has lifetime validity, if you make a chargeable activity worth of at least AED 10 once a year.
- Tourist Plan: 75 AED for the starter: It contains 200 MB data, 20 minutes (national and IDD to 100 countries (list), all valid for 7 days after activation. The Tourist SIM is valid for 90 days from activation. Customers can extend the validity for another 90 days at AED 5 by typing *135# and choosing option 2 or migrate to Pay As You Go (if they let you?), when required.
To top-up you can buy recharge cards called WoW of AED 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 or an e-voucher. To activate see below, as you have two accounts. Check your balance by *135#.
When you first use your SIM, you must activate it by calling any local number (maybe your hotel phone number) and follow the voice instruction to select your preferred language. Cheat sheet: for English press 2 and then press 1 to confirm.
Data feature packsEdit
Data by default is 1 AED per MB. These monthly data packs are offered for both plans:
- 20 AED: 160 MB, activation: text 'data 80MB o' to 1355
- 50 AED: 450 MB, activation: text 'data 300MB o' to 1355
- 100 AED: 1 GB, activation: text 'data 1GB o' to 1355
- 150 AED: 3 GB, only available through More Data recharge
- 200 AED: 5 GB, activation: text 'data 5GB o' to 1355
- 300 AED: 10 GB, only available through More Data recharge
- 500 AED: 25 GB, activation: text 'data 25GB o' to 1355
Activation for the once-off bundle is by texting code to 1355, online on your account or by adding a WoW refill voucher for more data in the required denomination by *131# (see below). For this, you need to enter the PIN of the scratch card like this: *131*<PIN code>#.
Overuse is charged at the default rate of 1 AED per MB. 4G/LTE access is now available for prepaid users who purchase 1 GB or larger data bundles.
You will have at least two accounts: a data account and a call/text account. The data bundles are activated when your data account is recharged by the required amount. *131*<voucher PIN># puts money in your data account.
Code *135*<voucher PIN># puts money in your call and text account and *138*<voucher PIN> in your IDD call account. Many people find this multiple account scheme confusing. If you have topped up your call/text account instead, you can activate the data bundles too by texting "moredata###" to 1311 whereas ### stands for the price in AED of the package. To check prepaid balance use code *135#.
Roaming packages Edit
Du sells discounted roaming packs for data in 66 countries all over the world (list of networks). For AED 200 you get 1 GB within one week by typing *135*20#. To check data balance, type *135#. Packages don't auto-renew after 7 days and can be booked when used up another time.
IDD calls Edit
In the absence of VoIP which is still blocked, IDD call rates become center of attention. Du actually matches the offer of etisalat (see above), available for all prepaid customers. For 0.6 AED per minute with a set-up fee of 1 AED per call, you can call to more than 100 countries (list) by *135*30# and choose option 1. The balance for these calls must have been loaded on the call account (*135*....) and you'll need to have at least 1.36 AED on it to place a call.
- APN: du
- Username and password: du
- Tethering is allowed, VoIP calls are still prohibited and blocked!
- Attention when recharging your account. You have to choose which account you want to charge with money (call <135> or data <131> or international <138> account - see above).
- Website in English: www.du.ae