IP communication garners interest in South Africa

Von Samantha Perry

Voice over IP is currently gaining a lot of attention in the wake of the Feb. 1 deregulation in South Africa. What seems to have been forgotten, however, is what IP communication offers beyond voice.

Says telecommunications analyst, John Joslin: ?IP enables all sorts of communication types -- from voice, data, video, file sharing, conference calls, application sharing, presence detection and so on. IP and its associated protocols enable you, for example, to call somebody in London over IP, add a third party in San Francisco to the conversation, initiate a file sharing session, jointly edit a document, and introduce a video clip that everyone can watch. Voice is really the minimum of what IP can do.?

Mitel?s Andy Bull believes the real value IP offers is in the productivity benefits it enables. ?Broadband services mean you can deliver services into the home cost-effectively. This means, for example, people working at home after hours can now be teleworkers, permanently connected to the corporate network, and work from home in the mornings, as an example, thereby avoiding rush hour traffic.?

The opportunities extend further than just the enterprise though. Says FrontRange MD, Tracey Newman: ?There is going to be a proliferation of telephony services organizations that will create and deliver new content for other organizations wishing to reach consumers through their cell phones, palmtop computers, Blackberries or desktop computers. Whether you start a service for fly fishermen, enabling them to check from their tents next to a stream in the Drakensberg whether or not the fishing is good in their area today, or a service for people on chronic medication to remind them to take their pills, if the idea is good and you have VOIP technology, you can very quickly create an income stream that has probably never been considered before.?

?We are seeing a strong move to value-added multimedia services, with a variety of PC-based integrated applications linked to a phone for a more complete multimedia experience in the form of ?presence?, instant messaging, file sharing, click-to-call and personal agent features. All this represents the enhancements that can be brought to a VOIP solution for an improved person-to-person working experience and greater corporate efficiencies,? says Rick Rogers, country manager of Nortel SA.

?After the initial rush I think that we are going to see a plethora of new types and ways of purchasing IT services, which will further drive the demand for VOIP,? notes Kathea Communications CEO, Greg Darke. ?As bandwidth becomes cheaper so it becomes more feasible to purchase applications that are hosted off-site. Some of the more common types of this sort of application will be finance services, call center and contact center applications, HR and marketing services and packages and, as we have seen overseas, a strong demand for all of Microsoft?s applications.?

Call center industry to benefit

The call center industry in particular stands to benefit from all that IP offers. Says Intelleca MD, Mike Renzon: ?Intelligent call routing (where a call is rerouted if the person is not there, for example), computer telephony integration (which enables data associated with a call to stay with the call), call control (taking a call back into the network intelligently if needed), detailed automated billing (where calls are routed out of a call center onto a company network), skills-based call routing (where calls are routed to agents based on skill set) and much more are enabled by IP communications.?

Says Grenville Payne, practice manager, infrastructure transformation services at Unisys Africa: ?The implications for local businesses and consumers go beyond mere call and infrastructure cost savings, because VOIP networks are really converged networks offering more than simple voice and data highways. Because open network IP traffic, which, after deregulation will include voice, video and data, can be pushed and pulled across the same infrastructure, a single device at either end can be used to view, hear or interact with it.

?More than that (and touching the imaginations and soon the pockets of many service providers),? he says, ?IP telephones, besides being the typical desktop ?mini-PC? many imagine, will also include mobile devices, since the introduction of third generation (3G) cellular networks, which are IP-enabled.

?3G is technically Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems (UMTS) and is a broadband protocol capable of up to 2Mbps transmissions. That means it is capable of transmitting huge volumes of data very quickly, or a combination of voice, data and video. Video requires high-quality transmission, ultimately derived from plentiful bandwidth, voice less so and data the lowest.

?The possibilities that converged networks offer include, for example, a nurse in a remote region with an IP telephone can, when administering to a patient, display procedural data on the IP telephone screen and simultaneously initiate a voice call to an operator who can view the same information on their screen and route the call to a doctor, or push an appropriate video to the nurse. Also, business users might interact with a remote PC to retrieve necessary data while speaking to a customer and pushing a product demonstration video to the client, all while they drive to their next appointment.

?What this requires is that users view VOIP not just as a means of saving call costs, itself a significant yet lonely benefit,? he states, ?but that they see VOIP deregulation as a means of providing multimedia content across a single infrastructure without boundaries, reaching wherever there is a fixed or wireless connection. Defining specific practical applications that provide return on investment is all that users need to do.?