Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) has emerged as an attractive cost-saving alternative for small and medium sized businesses in South Africa.
That's according to Louise Hepburn, telecommunications product manager at Itec. She says that the growing maturity of VOIP services, coupled with changes in the interconnect regime in South Africa, have made VOIP a viable replacement for premicells (least cost-routing) and analogue fixed-line voice calls in smaller businesses.
Hepburn says that cost-savings on local, national and cellular phone numbers rate as the major benefit that smaller businesses hope to gain from a move towards VOIP. VOIP providers are able to offer tariffs that are up to 30% lower than the incumbent mobile and fixed-line operators.
She notes that up until now, many small businesses have relied on LCR solutions to help them contain costs, particularly to cellular numbers. But many of the savings offered by LCR have been eroded by the lower mobile termination rates. The faster and more dramatically interconnect tariffs drop, the less of a business case there is for LCR, Hepburn adds.
VOIP cost-savings a better bet
But VOIP cost-savings are likely to remain constant, even if and when interconnect rates drops, she says. VOIP's cost-savings are compounded by the aggressive rebates many service providers offer customers for inbound calls as well as the fact that pure per-second billing options are available.
"Call costs in the VOIP environment are transparent and many service providers give customers access to powerful Web-based tools that let them track and manage their spending," Hepburn adds.
Hepburn points out that the advantages of VOIP do not lie in cost-savings on voice calls alone. The implementation of VOIP is an opportunity for companies to sweep away ageing voice and data infrastructure and replace it with a converged network.
Other benefits too
Converged voice and data networks are flexible and easy to manage compared to the separate legacy voice and data networks many small businesses still run. Rather than needing to lease a traditional PBX at great cost, they can put an affordable IP-enabled PBX in place or even opt for a hosted solution.
IP PBXs are based on industry-standard servers and software, and can be easily upgraded as the business grows, compared to older switchboards. It is also a simple matter to provide new extensions or to move end-users from one desk to another.
Hepburn points out companies can also save money on their telephone line rental costs by adopting VOIP since they can run a number of separate VOIP lines (each with its own number) off one ADSL line.
And finally, whereas many SMBs are today managing lines with Telkom and at least one premicell provider, VOIP gives them the opportunity to rationalise suppliers and get a single bill each month.
"SMBs had many reasons to be sceptical of VOIP in the past, from the costs of the infrastructure and the lack of geographic numbers to the quality of service VOIP providers offered," Hepburn concludes. "But most of those obstacles have fallen away. Today, VOIP is a mature and robust technology that is delivering significant benefits and savings to businesses of all sizes."