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South Africa’s stubbornly slow Internet speeds remain a significant obstacle for any local start-up contemplating the D.I.Y. IP (Internet Protocol) route using free telecoms software such as Skype, Google Talk and Whatsapp.

“New SME entrants to the market always face reputation challenges stemming from a lack of trading history. Using free apps that freeze during important calls to potential clients or funders, or which indicate a busy signal due to poor connectivity, only compounds the legitimacy issue,” said Mohammad Patel, CTO of independent telecoms provider, OTEL.

“Penny wise, pound foolish is an expression that comes to mind when start-ups understandably try to save on their telephony costs by opting for software solutions that promise free calling between subscribers and low-cost calling to people who aren’t subscribers,” Mr Patel says.

An additional problem is that, even when one is a paying customer of free telephony software firms, technical support is largely non-existent with the company expecting its clients to search for their own solutions using online resources.

“The good news for hard-pressed local SMEs is that the Rand’s spectacular decline relative to the US Dollar over the past few months means calls denominated in local currency are even more affordable,” he added. Applications such as the three mentioned above are USD-denominated.

Further good news is that South Africa now boasts an impressive array of Voice Over IP (VoIP) providers who install last-mile connectivity in office parks and other locations favoured by start-ups and other SMEs. Professionally installing last-mile IP connectivity completely overcomes South Africa’s Internet data speed issues.

“Free telephony software has its place but it’s currently overwhelmingly geared towards developed world environments. In South Africa, conventional VoIP telephony installed by professionals works best,” concluded Mr Patel.

OTEL is a licensed business-to-business provider of VoIP & broadband Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions. Its nationwide dedicated network and cutting-edge technology positions OTEL as one of South Africa’s leading wholesale telecoms providers.