The convergence of the worlds of voice and data as well as fixed-line and mobile solutions has finally started to become a reality in South Africa. Convergence is bringing a host of benefits to consumers and businesses alike.
That’s the word from Andy Baker, CEO at Nashua Mobile. He says that customers are increasingly able to buy complete telecommunications solutions from their technology partners, rather than purchasing disparate products from multiple suppliers that they need to integrate themselves.
“On World Telecommunications Day and Information Society Day (17 May), it is worth celebrating the regulatory changes and technology advances that have finally delivered convergence to the South African market,” says Baker. “We today have a truly competitive market, where consumers and businesses are able to pick and choose from sophisticated and affordable products from a wide selection of providers.”
Baker says that the convergence story in South Africa has unfolded over the course of the past 10 years. Convergence is taking place in the form of voice and data blending on corporate and enterprise networks; the convergence of fixed-line and mobile solutions; and the convergence of a range of applications and services on devices such as tablets and smartphones.
“Though convergence has long been spoken about, the technology only recently started to reach maturity,” says Baker. “The extensive investments network operators have made in high-speed cellular data services, national telecommunications links and international submarine cables have all helped to enable rich converged services,” he adds.
What’s more, end-user equipment such as IP PBXs, smartphones and tablet computers have all become cheaper, better and easier to use. For example, tablets and smartphones that can connect to cellular and Wi-Fi connections, have become more affordable and offer better battery life and user experiences than ever before.
Says Baker: “Voice and data integration in the form of VoIP and corporate IP telephony is already here. Many companies are already experiencing significant cost-savings and business benefits from this technology. Some 120 million voice minutes a month are already travelling over VoIP.”
The big move now is towards fixed-mobile convergence (FMC). FMC is all about a set of consistent services through fixed or mobile access to fixed or mobile, public or private networks.
“Think of your iPad with its cellular data package and Wi-Fi connection,” says Baker. “You can access your apps and services from this device using whichever technology is cheapest and most suitable at a specific place or time.”
Baker says that there are signs that the FMC space will explode in the months to come. For example, Telkom and its new cellular division 8ta are in an excellent position to put together innovative converged offerings. Other players will partner with each other to give customers simple access to a bundle of converged products such as a blend of Wi-Fi, 3G and fixed-line Internet access for mobile workers.
The trend will clear the way for a range of exciting applications, such as ‘one number, one phone’ capabilities where companies can give each employee a single phone and a single number that they use wherever they are.
Rather than having a phone on their desks, employees will be able to have a single GSM/Wi-Fi smartphone that they can use for their calls wherever they are. When they’re in a Wi-Fi coverage area, they could even opt to make cheaper VoIP calls rather than expensive cellular ones.
Baker concludes: “These trends mean that companies need to offer simple and transparent bundles that make it easy for users to access and manage multiple services. Users want to get a single bill from a single provider for all their services and a single point of access for support and services. Ultimately, convergence should be all about simplifying a telecommunications environment that has become very complex over the past 15 years.”