The introduction of a second network operator and national infrastructure-based competitor in the fixed line telecoms sector, Neotel, has breathed new life into local telecommunications.

For all intents and purposes national telecommunications service provider and fixed line operator Telkom has enjoyed a dominant position within South Africa’s telecommunications market, writes Robert Sussman, joint MD of Integr8 IT.

It would be fair to suggest that companies, by and large, have had little or no alternative when it comes to telecommunications-related services.

The appointment of Neotel and its recognition as a potential direct market competitor to Telkom heralds a new chapter in the development of the country’s communications infrastructure, service and opportunity.

It is interesting to note the manner in which Telkom has responded to the challenge. While there can be no disputing the criticism that has in the past been leveled at the publicly-listed company, there is a noticeable difference in Telkom’s external communication and general service.

To its credit, the company has implemented an aggressive, multi-level awareness campaign to inform investors, stakeholders, partners and customers about new levels of service. This approach becomes evident when one deals directly with Telkom – the experience now is different from that of the past.

There has been a purposeful shift away from the old ‘netted-tie’ brigade. Marketing and advertising is young, dynamic, fresh and easily understood. The impression is that Telkom is rooting out technical jargon and addressing the broader market with a message that suggests change for the better. This includes key considerations of speed, pricing and service.

The company has, for example, been instrumental in educating users about ADSL. This term is now generally understood by a wider audience – by people not necessarily experts in telecommunications or communications infrastructure.

One deduces that the company’s proactive stance on its image falls in line with a complete assault on rumor, misunderstanding, concern or queries from the market.

One conclusion that the public could come to, if this is indeed the route Telkom is following, is that competition is very obviously a necessity in this sector.

Furthermore, most people would welcome variety and choice in this market, so this development is generally considered a positive step in the growth of the country as a whole, and its technical capability.

It is important, though, to keep things in perspective. Realistically, Telkom has served for many years as the main conduit through which individuals and businesses have engaged in connectivity and telecoms.

Over time the company has built up its infrastructure, its skills, resources, equipment and resources. It has slowly but surely expanded its service and entrenched itself within a growing market.

Neotel is the new service provider. It is faced with the task of maintaining the interest of the market and following up with credible, reliable service and offerings. It would be naïve to suggest that the company immediately match Telkom’s offerings, and do so on every perceived and existing level, in a bid to meet all market requirements.

However, it would be just as foolish to think that Neotel will rest on its laurels. The market is far too demanding and competitive for that to happen.

The most likely scenario is that Neotel will take the necessary time to adapt and position itself. There will be information and awareness programs around initial offerings, but these will develop and grow into mature solutions that will be easily integrated into the market.

ICT service providers and other market operators will have to pay close attention to what happens in this space. There is certainly business opportunity and we need to prepare ourselves accordingly.

Dealing directly with fixed line operators and service providers on a continuous and proactive basis is undeniably an effective point of departure.

Another important factor to take into consideration is the importance of telecommunication services within the context of a managed services portfolio.

There are definite implications as far as outsourcing is concerned. Firstly, companies that outsource to managed service providers can immediately leverage off this prominence and acquire direct services without having to ‘shop around’. This could be considered a major advantage, specifically with regard to cost and productivity.

Secondly, service providers will be obliged to maintain focus on market developments, current and emerging trends, as well as key influences. The introduction of new technologies, fresh product roadmaps and market positioning by vendors will all impact on service delivery to the market.

Essentially, the growth of the telecommunications sector will re-define outsourcing for many an operator. This will be as a direct result of skills, knowledge and experience as required by service providers, and the onus on management to understand core business requirements and related applications.