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.
Censorship and VoIP Edit
The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority instructs ISPs to block various types of websites and services, which therefore cannot be directly accessed, for the following reasons:
- Inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political or moral values of the UAE
- Competition to state-owned telecoms monopolies (e.g. VoIP services)
- Sites with an Israeli .il domain
A new "cybercrime law" introduced in 2016 states that "Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dh500,000 and not exceeding Dh2,000,000, or either of these two penalties".
The effect is that it's illegal to use a VPN or proxy server to access blocked websites or services. The law does not specifically outlaw VPN use, and VPNs are lawfully used for example by employees to access corporate networks. Bear in mind that, although it's impossible for the authorities to detect which websites or services are being accessed via a VPN, many commercial VPNs whose primary purpose is to circumvent blocking are different from those used to access corporate networks.
Most popular VoIP services are blocked too as 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 restricted to text messages since 2013, with voice and video calls blocked. Apple agreed to sell its iPhone products in the UAE and Saudi Arabia with the FaceTime functionality omitted. Even outside the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Apple’s Facetime video-calling feature can't be added or used if the iPhone was purchased in these two countries.
Despite these restrictions, circumvention software and proxies are commonly used by UAE residents to access blocked content and VoIP services. The problem is that when you try to bypass the block by a free proxy/VPN app, 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 cautious and be aware of the law.
Without the 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 AED 55 as mini- and micro-SIM with a bonus of AED 1 valid for a day.
Recharges are by vouchers of AED 25, 50, 100, 200 or 500 using *120*<VoucherCode>#. Balance can be checked by *121#.
Subscription to Wasel is made by entering *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 AED 1 per MB.
- daily plan:
- 100 MB for AED 5, activation: SD
- 250 MB for AED 10, activation: D250M
- weekly bundles:
- 100 MB: AED 15, activation: W100M
- 500 MB: AED 35, activation: W500M
- 1 GB: AED 50, activation: W1G
- monthly packages:
- 250 MB: AED 30, activation: 250M
- 1 GB: AED 100, activation: 1G
- 3 GB: AED 150, activation: 2G
- 5 GB: AED 200, activation: 5G
- 7 GB: AED 250, activation: 7G
- 10 GB: AED 300, activation: 10G
- 20 GB: AED 450, 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 AED 1 per MB. All mentioned plans won't auto-renew.
Data usage can be checked by *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: AED 20, activation: ADD100M
- 500 MB: AED 40, activation: ADD500M
- 1 GB: AED 60, 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 AED 10 per quarter (once in 3 months) to remain in lifetime validity. In case you don't have AED 10 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 WiFi
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. This is a big disadvantage compared with the similar product of Du.
Alternatively, 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 International Calling Offer. You need to activate it by *135*70# free of charge. Some promoted countries are for AED 0.36 per min, most European countries for AED 1.2 to 1.8 AED per min. 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: AED 55 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: AED 75 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:
- 160 MB: AED 20, activation: text 'data 80MB o' to 1355
- 450 MB: AED 50, activation: text 'data 300MB o' to 1355
- 1 GB: AED 100, activation: text 'data 1GB o' to 1355
- 3 GB: AED 150, only available through More Data recharge
- 5 GB: AED 200, activation: text 'data 5GB o' to 1355
- 10 GB: AED 300, only available through More Data recharge
- 25 GB: AED 500, 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 AED 1 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 that is still blocked (see Basics), IDD call rates become center of attention. Du has matched Etisalat for their Pay As You Go plan, not their Tourist Plan: It's called International Savings Offer. By typing *135*70# and choose option 1 you will get discounted rates to 100 countries (list), some at AED 0.36 AED per min, most AED 1.2 to 1.8 AED per min.
- 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