Voice resurgence in South Africa — what the spectrum auction will mean for VoIP services

The availability of more radio frequency spectrum for mobile network operators in South Africa will be a big boost to voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) adoption.

That is according to two prominent VoIP service providers in South Africa, Switch Telecom and Euphoria Telecom.

VoIP systems use the Internet for voice communications, whereas conventional telephony uses analogue signals carried via copper cables.

VoIP has been gaining momentum in South Africa in recent years, with businesses, in particular, looking for alternative voice communication means that do not rely on copper.

Telkom is gradually shutting down its copper-based networks due to cable theft and performance issues, opting instead for a complete fibre network.

VoIP communication can be supported by both fixed fibre and wireless connectivity, including mobile data.

An excellent example of this is WhatsApp voice calling — which is just a VoIP service that can’t reach outside its own network.

VoIP service providers typically provide fully-fledged standalone packages that can include desk phones, software, and customer support.

Gregory Massel
Gregory Massel, Switch Telecom director

Switch Telecom director Gregory Massel said the benefits of more spectrum in providing more reliable mobile data speeds could spill over into VoIP services.

“Ultimately, the more consistent and reliable the data bearer, the more suitable it will be for VoIP services,” Massel said.

“While LTE and 5G data services are already good bearers for fixed-mobile VoIP services, I believe that we can soon look forward to a situation where fully mobile VoIP services become mainstream.”

Massel pointed out that the new spectrum allocations were accompanied by obligations by licensees to provide wholesale services to other licensees.

“While we have yet to see how these manifest, we may start to see new mobile service offerings from VoIP providers that use a combination of the mobile Radio Access Network and VoIP core network to deliver more affordable converged services,” Massel stated.

Euphoria Telecom chief technology officer, Nic Laschinger, said the low-band frequency spectrum would be of particular value.

“700MHz and 800MHz spectrum is perfect for rolling out to rural areas as these lower frequency radio waves can travel long distances and require fewer towers compared to higher frequency bandwidths,” Laschinger explained.

“For VoIP providers, this means more people across the country, particularly in under-served rural areas, will be able to make use of services including VoIP, opening up the market further for local players.”

Combined with the higher frequency spectrum in urban areas, there will be fewer so-called “black spots”, better coverage, and connection quality.

Nic Laschinger, Euphoria Telecom CTO

Massel said Switch Telecom believes there will be a resurgence of voice communications in South Africa, albeit more integrated with other forms of communications.

“The biggest frustration with traditional voice has become the ease of which disruptive forces — particularly unsolicited callers — have been able to disrupt one’s attention and the perceived difficulty of avoiding such communications,” Massel said.

“However, this is not unique to voice, with unsolicited emails and SMSs far more prevalent. We just tend to be able to manage those forms of communication better because of the relative ease of ignoring them or responding only when it suits us.”

Massel argues that applications like TrueCaller have gone a long way towards helping to reclaim voice communication as a productive tool.

In addition, a new standard being implemented in the US for authenticating caller ID and the latest draft Numbering Plan regulations published by Icasa seek to enforce a stricter framework locally to clamp down on call centres initiating calls with numbers that cannot be called back.

“In the longer term, as mechanisms for reliably identifying callers and filtering calls become more mainstream and voice telephony is increasingly integrated with calendaring and other technologies, individuals and businesses alike will start to use traditional voice more responsibly and courteously.”

Laschinger added that the introduction of non-geographic number portability at the beginning of March has also opened up the market further.

Businesses with 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862, and 087 numbers could now port their number away from Telkom to any other telecommunications provider.

“This means these businesses can move to more flexible, VoIP cloud-based offerings that enable them to digitally transform their telephony and integrate it more tightly to other line of business applications,” Laschinger said.

Now read: Mobile network spectrum still not available — even after R14.5 billion auction

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Voice resurgence in South Africa — what the spectrum auction will mean for VoIP services