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VoIP is finally ready for mainstream business

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South Africa’s ICT industry has long talked up the benefits of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as an alternative to traditional mobile and fixed-line telephony, but it is only now that a wide rollout of last-kilometre fibre has made it a truly compelling option for mainstream business use.
That’s according to Robert Marston, global head of product at Seacom, who says that concerns about voice quality have held back many businesses from replacing traditional switched voice lines with VoIP based solutions, especially small to medium operations running DSL lines.
Many businesses used options like Skype for some internal calls to drive down some of their voice costs, but also realised that it couldn’t completely replace their traditional telephone lines due to quality and complexity issues, he says. A call on a standard ADSL line might be marred by issues such as dropped voice packets, delay and echo.
These problems could be caused by oversubscription to the ADSL provider’s infrastructure or voice traffic needing to compete with other data such as browsing or social network traffic. The solution usually involves complex and costly optimisation of the wide area network.
“In a business environment this is not acceptable. Often, the end-user will use a costlier option like his or her mobile phone rather than putting up with poor voice quality,” says Marston. “What’s more, while applications like Skype might be fine for internal calls, management of payments and credits for calling fixed and mobile numbers can be complex and expensive.”
However, the arrival of fibre in business parks in South Africa’s metropolitan areas means that telcos can at last offer VoIP solutions that are as reliable and consistent in their quality as a traditional switched voice line. This is in part due to the boost in bandwidth levels to far beyond even top-end ADSL and VDSL products, and also thanks to innovative solutions such as cost-effective, dedicated bandwidth for voice traffic.
“The shift towards VoIP is an ideal opportunity for businesses to revamp their voice environments to achieve cost-savings, improve effectiveness, simplify their voice and data environments, as well as provide a better experience to their end-users,” Marston adds. Another benefit is that companies can buy cloud, voice and Internet access services from a single provider, making costs more transparent and giving them access to a single point of support for their business needs.
Companies can shift away from inflexible, hardware-based PBXs on their own premises towards software-based PBXs in the cloud that offer them lower costs and more business agility by being able to scale up and down quickly, he adds. Cloud PBXs are managed on the company’s behalf by a specialist service provider such as SEACOM, which hosts the infrastructure in a secure data centre.
One of the major benefits lies in their flexibility and scalability – they make it easy for an organisation to provision more extensions for end-users without installing additional lines or hardware. They also take the burden of maintaining the PBX off the company’s hands.
These solutions provide a central portal to manage calls and extensions, greatly simplifying running VoIP in the business and providing insight and comprehensive reporting. “This can be really powerful in increasing effectiveness within the business, especially when combined with features such as call recording, hunt groups and other powerful features which cloud based hosted PBX provides,” says Marston.
“With Seacom controlling the network from the last kilometre to our international points of presence, we can offer voice services at the quality of a traditional landline,” he adds. “We also have built our solution on the best of breed BroadSoft platform and in partnership with one of the leading VOIP and PBX solutions companies. This ensures high quality and feature rich capabilities for our customers. There has never been a better time for South African enterprises to jump into VOIP.”