During a recent ISPA General Meeting, I once again caught up with the bona-fide telecoms industry players. Discussing the challenges we face and how the industry is moving forward. It is interesting to note that although we all play in the same arena, our strategies differ completely, thus making our approach to market contrastingly innovative. It just shows how the industry has grown from being a five operator network to an industry now offering so many choices to the end user.

Operator to operator discussions are (handled) very differently to one with a corporate. Dealing on the same level opens up your eyes to things which are hidden behind curtains. Incumbents, who were commanding loads of respect from me, now have been reduced to colleagues also facing many challenges. Their approach towards the morphing of Legacy Telephony into Unified Communications is the least to say, disorganized. Their handling and maintaining of Telephone 2.0 infrastructure is slow and undesirable. Being mega-multi-million rand companies, I expected higher efficiency, quicker escalation response times, and more knowledgeable approach instead of continuously referring back to the ‘vendor’.

This may be due to the shortage of skills in the country. After all, O-Tel has just opened its certification programme seeing the need of one since most of the VoIP engineers applying for our open positions have learnt their trade via self-learning. It may even be due to the lack of motivation or human resources management which comes as a challenge with larger companies. Whichever way it is, my opinion is that South Africa’s telecom industry has some way to go before reaching the same support and sales level compared to the European and American standards.

This works in O-Tel’s favour. It makes support and sales easy. The implementation of our (world class) online billing and support system in 2009 has firmly established itself as a selling point to new clients, and has reaped many testimonials from our current clients. The backbone consisting of support staff located all over the world allows 24/7 attendance to be a breeze. California, Ontario, Leicester, Ipswich, London, Delhi, Bangalore, Karachi, Adelaide, Johannesburg and some more…highly trained individuals who work as a team to ensure the O-Tel engine is well oiled and keeps moving. This is instrumental in our strategy of providing Triple Play Services in the near future. Beta testing has already begun for our IP TV offering, hence our push to convert our clients to our NGN Leased Line network.

“We abide by the ‘KISS (Keep It Sweet & Simple)’ method of business.”
                                                                                                                                                   ~Mohammad Patel

Why complicate matters when you want the service to do what it needs to do. Keep financial matters simple so it is easy to compute your profits.

The world evolves, from the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, Space age to the current Information/Digital Age, we all have to move forth and join the ‘trending’path. South Africa is no stranger to it, as VoIP has surely grown to be a very popular technology since 2008. All 5 major operators in SA are using VoIP. It amuses me to read in forums and media certain technology officers hanging on to GSM and PSTN technology.

What all our northern hemisphere partners have in common though is that they do not see VoIP as an alternative, but they refer to the VoIP service as Voice! This did not bother me as I just thought this was their term of referring to the voice service. This perception changed after a chat with Dominic Cull who is always available for a piece of advice. As we were heading home from the MTN HQ, he (confidently) stated:

“ Do not use the word VoIP any longer, but use VOICE….refer to old Voice as Legacy Voice.”

A couple of days later, an informative email from Dominic prompted me to write up this blog. He thinks that there is a need to start educating subscribers to the fact that the distinction which have traditionally existed between voice and data is rapidly blurring and will no longer exist by 2020 (if not sooner).

Upon reading further into his email, I initially disagreed upon this comment:

“The voice products currently offered by the incumbent operators in South Africa are legacy products and all of these incumbents are engaged in moving towards providing voice over an IP platform (and in many cases are already using IP to move a lot of their voice traffic). When this occurs billing models for voice which rest upon per second or per minute tariffs will change to models based on per MB usage.” ~ Dominic Cull

This comment did not hit me until little later, that it is true. The term ‘VoIP’ has died. The technology remains, but it is now simply known as Voice. This is how all providers inter-connect with today, and if they are still using the old SS7s, then they surely are living in the old ‘pre-IP’ ages. It does make sense once all providers begin to peer and pass on the voice as data. Already we have some companies making a move towards VoIP on mobile on a carrier grade level.

Yes, IP connecting is still maturing in SA. ICASA does not have all the loopholes and issues covered as yet, but it is work in progress.

Mr Cull concluded in his email.

The future will see all voice being carried over IP networks – what we refer to as VoIP today – and voice will be recognised as nothing more than IP packets travelling from one point to another, in the same way as video and other content is accessed by subscribers . So it becomes important to remove any stigma attaching to the term “VoIP” which may prevent the uptake of what is really the next generation of voice services and allow South Africa to move forward to more affordable, better quality and innovative voice services.

I am glad to see someone sharing the same vision as I do for the South African Telecoms Industry. The IP Centric team at O-Tel Telecoms works tirelessly inproviding Triple Play Services. I for one sure would like to have a 100mbps broadband pipe at my home providing me with Internet, futuristic telephony like in the movies, and IPTV.

Here to the future!