I recently wrote about operators saving a packet on toll charges by using IP technology at the core, while failing to pass the benefit on to consumers and businesses with retail voice over IP (VoIP) products.
This, I pointed out, is because very cheap voice products will quickly decimate their revenues, so it seems reasonable to expect that the fixed-line and mobile telcos will hold on to their traditional business models a little longer.
Writing on the wall
But the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Telecoms research firm Telegeography estimates that global VoIP traffic grew 25% in 2011, to about a third of total traffic, while traditional time division multiplexed traffic grew only three percent.
Globally as well as locally, operators have seen the light. In South Africa for instance Telkom, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C are all putting in IP networks, and it is only a matter of time before they switch over to IP.
But they will not find it an easy transition.
How the wheel turns
Offering a competitive VoIP service requires seasoned capabilities. In the nine years since South Africa began its piecemeal liberalisation of the voice market, VoIP providers have had time to build up invaluable expertise in offering secure, quality, reliable IP services.
The privilege was hard-fought and the new electronic communications network (ECS/ECNS) licence holders still have it tough. For instance, they still have to use Telkom’s unmanaged ‘last-mile’ network in their ADSL-based service offerings, making a quality, responsive service somewhat difficult (though possible).
Were first, now last
Nevertheless, the wheel is turning, and a brave new era of VoIP is taking shape, as outlined above. Ironically, while the traditional telcos continue to dominate telephony, because they control the physical infrastructure, they are the johnny-come-latelies of the new converged world of telecoms.
So can they be trusted to offer a reliable VoIP service?
Signs of VoIP proficiency
To offer a reliable VoIP service, providers must be able to offer excellent network design at the customer premises, data centre redundancy and managed access. All of these are complex fields in their own right, and require a wealth of experience and a high level of proficiency.
The following factors are just some of the must-haves in a VoIP provider’s arsenal of techniques to ensure, for example, reliable managed access:
- Proactive responsive: The incumbent’s history of exclusive last-mile access has afforded it the privilege of running a reactive service. From the outset, VoIP providers have had the ability and the inclination to monitor network health in real time, leading to diminished outages.
- Voice prioritisation: VoIP providers understand converged networks better than data specialists or traditional telcos, and have an extensive arsenal of techniques, including class-of-service prioritisation, to guarantee quality of service.
- Call access control: Another means to assure QoS is CAC, a network design technique which focuses on low latency and guaranteed delivery.
- Self-healing survivability: In VoIP networks, self-healing allows for critical real-time voice packets to continue to be received and understood.