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Is VoIP Africa’s future communication platform?

September 22, 2011 • Mobile and Telecoms, Top Stories

VoiceSA 2011, a next generation telecommunications conference was held today at the Bytes Technology Business Park, Midrand, Johannesburg in South Africa.

Rapelang Rabana, Yeigo Communications CEO (image source: VoiceSA)

VoiceSA brings together industry players within the voice industry and covers the latest developments in business communication solutions and trends in the telecommunications industry. Some of the topics covered by the speakers included bandwidth supply, deregulation, falling interconnect rates and evolving technologies.

ITNewsAfrica attended the VoiceSA 2011 conference and conducted an interview with one of the keynote speakers, Rapelang Rabana, Yeigo Communications CEO, a South African based software development organisation regarding her topic – “Mobile VoIP: from a fragmented to a Unified Communication experience” and  her role as one of SA’s youngest female CEOa in ICT.

What are the current trends in voice and data services in Africa?

The general trends in terms of voice are related to using more IP platforms instead of the traditional GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks because of the greater efficiency and the variety of things you can do – not just phone calls but chatting, sms or email and extending that to anything that suits the business environment.

The second major trend would be cloud based telephony. In the next generation of business telephony, buying physical on site equipment won’t make sense anymore. By incorporating smaller businesses that don’t have the capacity to roll-out that kind of capex is going to play a crucial role in capacitating smaller businesses in Africa to get involved in more comprehensive telephony solutions for themselves.

What is your understanding of next generation telecoms?

Next generation telecoms in my understanding means you can do all the traditional services that were done before, in terms of the incumbent operators you can do traditional voice and sms services, but over and above that you have incorporated IP platforms within the core of your services, which allows you to add various kinds of value adds with much greater ease than incumbent operators who didn’t have IP built at the centre of their core network before.

It means you can easily add services like cloud telephony and software applications on mobile devices and computers, and incorporate other things above voice and sms – like messaging and email services much more easily than the incumbent operator.

It’s about taking the fact that traditional voice and sms services have had a great impact on us but going forward must be able to incorporate IP based platforms as well.

Do you firmly believe that African enterprises fully understand the power of VoIP?

No, it is definitely still early days.  Understanding requires a lot of education especially for the average consumer, while the more sophisticated businesses definitely understand the benefits and are getting more involved.

Getting down to the grass roots level is still a long way to go and there’s a lot of work to be done in that respect.

Why are most established South African VoIP companies not expanding into the rest of Africa?

That’s an interesting question. From Yeigo’s perspective it’s definitely something we’ve always wanted to do and wish to do going forward.  It was more the fact that having started our base in SA, we needed to stabilise our own market and our own business before spreading to the rest of the continent.

South Africa was the testing bed for us. Once we are truly satisfied with what we’ve achieved here, we will explore other feasible markets. I would say maybe the SA market took so long to be competitive enough for service providers to fully establish themselves.

What sort of challenges do you face in your line of business?

The challenges have been related to the deregulation of the telecoms environment and that’s just not an SA problem but most countries are battling with deregulation because the incumbent operators are very powerful and protective of their territory at this point in time.

We saw how long it took for South Africa to begin to drop the carrier interconnect rates to a competitive price. The telecom regulation environment was one factor but in general, connectivity will limit the introduction of IP based communication.

What can be done to make voice and data more accessible to a vast population?

It will come down to the connectivity factor. While most people will be using VoIP on a mobile phone, it does require that their 3G networks are also suitable enough for them to rely on them entirely.

Wireless networks are not so pervasive and reliable as required. It does limit the consumer application. That in general needs to improve but there will be other ways to do VoIP.

Ultimately I think solutions like carrier pre-select where consumers can download a number and the number they wish to reach from their mobile phone or Telkom line, is where consumers will access the new alternative operators. Carrier pre-select is probably the best solution for the consumer market at this stage.

How important is collaboration with other VoIP providers?

There’s definitely room for collaboration as not everyone has built the same level of infrastructure. The kind of collaboration that we’re still missing is where connectivity partners collaborate more with VoIP operators.

Why is Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) so vital for any VoIP provider?

Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) given it was done within the time frame would have been hugely impactful. I’m of the opinion that it’s possibly late. My position is to favour more carrier pre-select. It essentially does the same thing as LLU in terms of telephony and not dealing with broadband Internet access.

A carrier pre-select is a much cleaner way to go forward and given that LLU has taken so long, I’m not convinced that we will derive value from it when it finally arrives.

What industry does VoIP fall under? Do you fall under the telecommunication industry?

We consider ourselves the next generation carrier. We are a fully-fledged carrier that can actually participate in IP based communication. That’s how we position ourselves.

If you had to expand your business into Africa, which country would be your first port of call?

I’m very keen to go to Kenya. I’m hoping to go there in November 2011 if I can manage to get invited to a conference there. I’m very fascinated by the mobile market in Kenya. My personal goal is to spend more time in Kenya.

Bontle MoengITNewsAfrica Online Editor

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One Response to Is VoIP Africa’s future communication platform?

  1. Riaan says:

    I believe there should be differentiated between traditional VOIP providers and companies providing voice solutions whereby connectivity is for VOICE only. No data contention should be on the lines as that is the only method to ensure quality of calls. This next-gen telecoms is here to stay but many suppliers will have to invest in better infrastructure, technology and most importantly probes to identify actual voice quality and methods to fix bad quality immediately.

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