Skype, an online communications service provider, declared on Monday that a centre will be opened in the Middle East for the first time. This is as a result of the company’s intentions of reaching out to new customers.

Manama, Bahrain’s capital city was chosen as the locality for this first regional centre. Skype allows its subscribers to get free video and voice calls online once its software is downloaded.

In a chat with The Media Line, Rouzbeh Pasha, Skype’s Head of Middle East & Africa Market Development, said “it is our eyes and ears and a platform to reach out to our partners in the Middle East and Africa region,” Pasha further said “we went through a list of countries in the region and Bahrain ticked the most boxes for Skype as an online software company.”

A number of reasons was given by the Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, why Skype chose to locate their centre in Bahrain over other countries.

Al Khalifa in a chat with The Media Line noted that “we were obviously keen to attract Skype to Bahrain given the reputation of the business and the success it has had in recent years”. He further said that “fundamentally, they were attracted to set up their regional representative office here by Bahrain’s liberal and advanced ICT [information and communication technology] infrastructure and policies”.

“I think it’s vital for the region that ICT development and investment continues, because other sectors such as energy and financial services are growing and require world class ICT support and infrastructure,” he noted in line with the expansion all over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), made up of Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We have a growing young population eager to learn and exploit new technologies, such as Skype’s, whilst the moves towards closer integration across the GCC nations will provide further opportunities”, he said.

Al Khalifa also stated that “we have invested in our infrastructure and people to maximize our strategic position as the gateway to the Gulf, which together with our strong track record, robust and effective regulation and low operating costs will continue to offer international businesses an attractive base to access the Gulf’s trillion dollar economy”.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report, which evaluates how ICT’ affects the growth process of different countries, mentioned Bahrain’s leadership in ICT-based growth.

It was written in the 2009-2010 report that “Bahrain consolidates the impressive upward trend started last year, with another eight-place improvement and a performance driven by an extremely ICT- and business-friendly market environment”.

Even though United Arab Emirates is ranked above Bahrain in the report, the country has put a ban on the access to Skype, along with Oman and Kuwait. In Lebanon, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which is the technical term for voice communications over the Internet, is equally illegal. In the last few months, officials in Lebanon have been closing up some VoIP services that are similar to Skype. This is in harmony with the 2002 Lebanese Telecoms Act. These policies in Lebanon have not yet affected.

Skype is used by lots of youths in Middle East as well as foreigners based in this region. In all, 560 million people are registered to Skype all over the world.