Q&A:What is the role of Unified Communications in Africa?

Unified communications (UC) vendors need to recognise mobile as a fully-fledged component and platform in the UC technology collective.

That’s according to Bennie Langenhoven, Tellumat Communication Solutions Managing Executive. ITNewsAfrica conducted a Q&A interview with Langenhoven to gain more insight into the role of  UC in Africa’s competitive business environment.

Bennie Langenhoven, Tellumat Communication Solutions Managing Executive (image source: file photo)

1. What is Unified Communications?

Unified communications consist of two legs.  The first one is collaboration tools; which includes unified messaging (voicemail and fax to e-mail), desktop productivity tools (click to dial and screen pops with information of incoming caller), call handling modes (different voicemails for different states), desktop sharing, conferencing (audio and video) etc.

The second component is presence management, which means the above tools can be used anywhere and on different devices like tablets and mobile phones.  The net result is that an individual can be in full control of their own communications at anytime, anywhere, which means a person is always contactable on one number.

2. Do African enterprises understand its benefits?

This depends on the organisation.  Very often people still confuse Unified Communications with VOIP in a least cost router scenario.  The CTOs of more and more organisations are starting to see the business benefits of UC and have a good understanding of what it is.

3. Which African nation is fast adopting Unified Communications as part of their daily business activity?

There are a number of companies in South Africa that are adopting UC and are reaping the benefits.  However the rest of the continent is still lagging behind the rest of the world somewhat.

4. How can service providers assist African enterprises to understand and develop collaborative services?

By making UC part of their product offering and by considering bundled packages, including UC with their connectivity services (voice and data).

5. Is all unified communication cloud based services?

No, not at all.  Unified Communications are predominantly customer premises based.  In the USA, uptake of cloud based UC is only happening to some extent in the sub 50 user space, with almost nothing above that.  In South Africa, with our very high cost of bandwidth and low availability, it will be a good number of years before proper full blown UC can be successfully deployed in the cloud for enterprise users.

6. How is Unified Communications being developed and deployed in Africa?

Most development of UC happens outside of Africa at this stage.  A number of smaller companies are embracing open source technology to develop their own solutions and are achieving limited success in the market with these offerings.  Deployment typically happens with larger distributors supplying to resellers, who in turn have relationships with enterprise customers and are doing the selling, installation and maintenance thereof.

7. Do companies in Africa embrace cloud services?

To a limited extent, but cost and access to broadband is limiting to adoption of cloud services.

8. What is the future of telephony in Africa?

The future of telephony in Africa is very promising.  In most parts of Africa, economies of scale will cause deployment of telephony services to be wireless.  Africa is a growth continent with huge potential and as a result creates opportunity for innovative communication solutions.  The supply of wireless infrastructure for telephony in Africa will in all likelihood be dominated by big suppliers from the East, who may or may not use local partners for deployment.

Bontle Moeng – ITNewsAfrica Online Editor