Mobile Communication and Internet in Dubai

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When traveling abroad, it is crucial to stay connected with family and friends. Communication is also essential for navigating maps, calling taxis, and checking prices. You can either enable roaming or purchase a tourist SIM card for stable mobile communication in Dubai. The choice depends on the duration of your stay in the UAE and your priority services (local call minutes or internet access).

Telecommunication Service Market in the UAE

The main operators in the UAE are Etisalat and Du. Etisalat is the largest telecommunications company in the UAE, founded in 1976. In 1983, the government of the UAE acquired 60% of Etisalat's shares, with the remaining 40% sold in public auctions. Until 2006, Etisalat was the sole mobile operator in the UAE. Du entered the market later.

Competition between the major operators is practically nonexistent, as a significant portion of both companies is owned by the government, and the market is divided almost geographically. Etisalat's headquarters are in Abu Dhabi, while Du's headquarters are in Dubai. While Etisalat owns most of the telecommunication infrastructure in the UAE, Du is the exclusive provider of cable television and home internet in certain areas of Dubai.

Apart from Etisalat and Du, you may also find points of sale for Virgin Mobile and Swyp SIM cards. Swyp is a subsidiary brand of Etisalat. Virgin Mobile, originating from the UK, operates in the UAE and other countries and offers advantages such as widespread physical locations for assistance,

  • including malls, office buildings, and airports,
  • and free SIM card delivery within 1 hour. However, a notable downside is automatic subscription, which is challenging to cancel.

There are no other operators in the UAE besides the ones mentioned.

Mobile Communication and Tariffs

The GSM 900/1800 network standard is used in the UAE, and standard SIM cards are compatible with phones from Russia. Operators offer both postpaid and prepaid tariffs. Postpaid plans are suitable for those planning an extended stay, while tourists can opt for prepaid plans offered by Etisalat, Du, and Virgin Mobile.

Tourist Tariff Plans

The cost of mobile communication depends on the service package and subscriber category. There are special temporary tariffs for travelers. Etisalat offers the Visitor Line, while Du provides the Tourist Plan.

Du's SIM cards are distributed directly at the airport during passport control. This marketing strategy aims to attract new subscribers, but travelers should carefully consider the terms. Du is the second-largest operator in the UAE after Etisalat, and issues may arise with registration via USSD commands for many users (requiring a visit to the operator's office).

Du's Tourist Plan offers connection for 7 or 14 days, with costs starting from $15. The package includes local call minutes and mobile data. Calls to Russian numbers are priced from $0.7 per minute.

Etisalat's Visitor Line includes various service packages with minutes for local calls and internet traffic. A comparison of Visitor Line tariffs can be found on their website.

If you plan to stay in Dubai and secure stable communication for work or leisure, understanding the available operators and tariff options is essential.

The Title of the TariffNumber of MinutesInternet Traffic, GBConnection Cost, Dirhams
Visitor Line30245
Visitor Line+30479
Visitor Line Premium1208125
Visitor Line Premium+52522.5 hours of internet access200
Visitor Line Unlimite100unlimitted319

To use mobile communication and the internet with Etisalat, you need to purchase a sim card additionally (55 dirhams + 5% VAT) and subscribe to the desired plan. The standard validity period for the package is 28 days.

If you choose Etisalat, download the operator's application from the Google Play or AppStore – My Etisalat UAE. The application is in English and has an intuitively understandable interface. With the Etisalat app, you can monitor your expenses, check remaining internet data, and minutes – it's very convenient.

Virgin Mobile offers 7 days of unlimited mobile internet and 100 minutes of talk time for 55 dollars, or 14 days of internet and 300 minutes for 87 dollars. You can also purchase a sim card and subscribe to a package with 2 GB of internet and 30 minutes of talk time for 28 days, costing 13 dollars.

For permanent subscribers, obtaining a sim card in the UAE requires an Emirates ID. There is no way to bypass this restriction. Some individuals ask friends or relatives with Emirates ID to register a sim card for them. While there are limits on the number of sim cards per person, they are quite lenient. However, the UAE government does not encourage sim card sharing and occasionally reminds that the responsibility for any violations will lie with the registered user.

Etisalat offers the following packages for permanent subscribers:

TarifsNumber of minutesInternet trafficCost, dirhams
Small15400 Mb10
Medium40750 Mb25
Large1002 Gb50
Extra Large1753.3 Gb75

Exceeding the limit is not advisable, as the cost of using the internet will significantly increase. Du offers a small package of services (50 minutes, 750 MB) for 50 dirhams and an extended package, including 100 minutes and 1.5 GB of internet, for 100 dirhams. There are additional restrictions: downloading is limited to 500 MB per day.

Some tariffs include data for accessing international social networks, labeled as DATA SOCIAL in the price lists.

Choosing between roaming and tourist plans depends on the duration of your stay in the UAE and your priorities (local call minutes or internet access). For short visits, roaming with Russian operators might be cost-effective. However, if you plan to stay for ten days or more, purchasing a local sim card, especially from Virgin Mobile for its favorable data rates, becomes more convenient than relying on roaming or free Wi-Fi in hotels and malls.

Another option is to buy an eSIM. Services like HolaFly and AirAlo operate in the UAE. This allows you to retain your number and use mobile internet at a lower cost than roaming. To activate an eSIM, download the chosen service's application and follow the instructions, typically selecting the country, package, and payment. Russian MIR cards might not be suitable for payment, so it's better to use Visa or Mastercard.

Home Internet in Dubai and Tariffs

Connecting to wired internet provides stable high-speed connectivity. Comprehensive packages, including various services, are offered by providers, and all necessary equipment is provided, though it must be returned at the end of the contract.

Internet access in Dubai is available for local residents over 21 years old, requiring an Emirates ID for connection. Du also requires proof of address, such as a rental agreement or utility bills. The connection process takes about a week, and in case of issues, repairs may take 1–3 days.

Restrictions in the UAE

Internet in the UAE is subject to censorship, blocking resources inconsistent with the country's moral, cultural, and political values. The criteria for blocking websites are broad, potentially affecting any page.

In popular messengers, voice and video calls are restricted, allowing only text and voice messages. Most VoIP services, including Skype and Viber, do not work in the UAE. However, FaceTime from Apple, GoChat Messenger, Google Meet, Skype Businesses, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams reportedly have access. There are no restrictions on multimedia messages in messengers and social networks.

VPN services are not prohibited in the UAE, but using them to bypass restrictions is considered a violation. Torrents are not banned, but users occasionally report issues with downloading files through Torrent via Etisalat. The government urges not to spread false information, offensive messages, gambling solicitations, and to avoid sharing pornographic, extremist, and terrorist materials, as well as spyware. Dating sites, online casinos, and video chats are also prohibited. Criticizing any actions of the authorities is not recommended.

Quality of Communication and Internet in Dubai

Despite numerous restrictions, the overall quality of communication and the internet in Dubai is relatively high. In major UAE cities (Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah, etc.), there is fast mobile internet and good mobile communication quality. 5G is generally available, but signal levels drop to 3G or 4G inside buildings. Coverage is weaker in remote areas, with potential signal drops.

The infrastructure of operators is modern, and in Dubai, internet is installed in all rooms during construction in residential complexes. Basic stations in cities are camouflaged as palm trees. Virgin Mobile operates on Du's infrastructure in the UAE, so the quality of communication is approximately the same. Similarly, Swyp utilizes Etisalat's towers and networks. Home internet in Dubai is relatively expensive, but it is indispensable. Before traveling to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or other UAE cities, carefully review the offerings of local operators to choose the most suitable connection option.

If you are interested in establishing a business in the UAE, contact The Level Consulting, a consulting agency offering a full range of services for company formation and development in the UAE, including assistance with obtaining a sim card in the UAE, Emirates ID, account opening, and support for various transactions, including real estate matters in the United Arab Emirates. Contact us for detailed consultation.

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