China has officially declared Skype and other third-party VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services illegal, according to reports from China and an article in the state-run People's Daily. The announcement follows previous similar bans on sites including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Following the announcement from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), a Skype spokesperson said that the service was still available in China, via their majority JV partner TOM Online. Australian Business Traveller has confirmed with contacts located within the PRC that Skype is currently functional. However, with China having announced its policy, it is unclear for how long this will continue to be the case.
Our recent review of Skype 3.0 for iOS devices may have tempted some business travellers to increase their reliance on the service, but it now seems sensible to have other options for connectivity in the People's Republic.
According to the Chinese announcement, VoIP services provided by China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom -- the largest mobile telcos in China -- are permissible. Skype and others, including Google Talk, won't be.
Business travellers should note that the crackdown is on service providers rather than users, so if a service is up and running, users are unlikely to face any difficulties with the authorities for using it. With the speed and availability of high speed Internet access in China increasing, Skype and similar services had seemed like useful services for business travellers.
For business travellers looking for alternative ways to stay in touch, we have also had success buying local SIM cards for iPhones and other devices. Prepaid SIM cards of all sizes are widely available in Chinese cities, and calls into China are free to the recipient. Data plans are available, but iOS users should remember that their devices may need to be synced with iTunes to update carrier settings before data starts working.