Steadily improving bandwidth access in South Africa (a country which nonetheless lags the global standard by some distance), along with the increasing market presence of over-the-top (OTT) voice over IP (VOIP) products, has led many pundits to predict a massive shift from voice-centred communication to VOIP solutions in South Africa. But, South African telephony specialist, SS Telecoms, cautions that the shift may not be as marked as many expect.
“It's true that VOIP is gaining steady market share, but there is a wider reality, in that many organisations haven't quite got to grips with how to manage the technology effectively,” says George Smalberger, Managing Director at SS Telecoms. “This means voice is likely to dominate the South African market for the foreseeable future.”
Recent data from research firm Ovum reinforces Smalberger’s statement. According to Ovum: "OTT VOIP will cost the global telecoms industry $479 billion over the next eight years – 6.9% of cumulative total voice revenue." However, Ovum points out that these services will not replace traditional telephony.
“The research confirms that voice patterns are shifting, certainly,” says Smalberger. “But we are by no means looking at the collapse of the voice market. We should, instead, think of it as the next phase in an evolutionary process. In South Africa, it's also important to note that VOIP remains a nascent technology. Until there is a strong ability to manage the technology across the market, the idea that voice communication will be replaced wholesale by VOIP is a bit pie in the sky.”
A primary technical issue raised by Smalberger is the reliability of the Internet line within an organisation.
“Broadband failures can disrupt a VOIP service completely,” he says. “A breakdown is one thing when the line is faulty, for instance, but there is also the issue of variable quality. Past a certain quality point, VOIP tools aren't viable. There are solutions to these issues, of course, but it is an open question how soon the market will reach a point where the resolution is understood and acted upon in the majority of cases. Until we reach this point, it's unlikely that VOIP will steal massive market share from voice.”
One of the solutions Smalberger refers to is a VOIP to GSM router. With this kind of technology in place, the organisation can rest assured that when Internet access is interrupted, for whatever reason, the system will automatically fall back to the use of a GSM network. With this kind of fail-safe in place, the organisation can use VOIP with confidence.
“It's pretty basic stuff, but awareness in the market of this kind of holistic telephone management solution is still low,” says Smalberger. “Products like LCR devices and solutions, SS-16, for example, are cost-effective and easy to implement. But, it will still take time before the majority of our companies are managing VOIP really effectively. We believe voice will dominate the market over the medium term.”