South Africa's telecommunications costs are still high, despite significant reductions in recent years – and contact centres have been forced to adopt innovating strategies including the use of Voice over IT (VoIP) technology. 


This is according to CallingtheCape executive director Luke Mills, who says the cost of international leased lines has decreased from about $27 000.00 a month to  $9 000.00 a month since 2003, largely due to increased competition brought about by deregulation in 2004.

But, he says, domestic leased line costs remain high and the overall costs to contact centre operations are still a burden.
A 2005 study by the South Africa Foundation found that international leased line prices in South Africa were 31 times more expensive than the cheapest country compared, and three times as expensive as the next most expensive country. On average, companies based in South Africa paid 399% of the average price for international leased lines.
South Africans also paid higher call charges than residents of 15 other countries surveyed. Peak local calls in South Africa were 11 times as expensive as the cheapest product elsewhere and 199% more expensive than the cheapest price.
This high-cost environment, says Mills, has had the benefit of ensuring innovation by local contact centre operators.
"The South African telecoms market has always been a law unto itself, but in recent years deregulation and convergence technologies like VoIP have enabled local companies to start to benefit from the global trends that have slashed communications costs worldwide.
"Contact centres are leading the way and their experiences have lessons for all companies that are still paying too much for telecoms."
Three companies that have successfully deployed VoIP solutions will present at this year's annual CallingtheCape Telecoms Conference, says Mills.
Presenters include Ian Measures, the UK-based global IT director for UK insurance giant the Budget Group of Companies, as well as Wynand Schutte, general manager for the South African call centre operations of the UK's Carphone Warehouse.
Datapro Group executive chairman Tony van Marken will present on global trends in convergence and how the world's best companies are reducing telecoms costs and capital expenditure.
The panel discussion, which has become a highlight of the conference in recent years, will feature speakers from six competing telecommunications providers – including Telkom, for the first time – as well as senior telecoms attorney Janet MacKenzie of Cliffe Dekker.
"It's a key part of CallingtheCape's role to advocate for growth- enabling infrastructure and to drive down the cost of doing business in SA," says Mills. "That's why our conferences have consistently showcased ways of lowering telecoms costs. Our speakers this year have several decades of experience in the global telecommunications environment between them, and we expect a very robust debate. "
The half-day conference, which takes place on 31 January at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, is sponsored by VoxTelecom, SaabGrintek, Econocall, Spescom, Tellumat, Storm, Verizon, Telkom, Cliffe Dekker and Dimension Data. For more information visit www.callingthecape.org