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Building South Africa

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Residents of South Africa’s burgeoning gated communities can now enjoy a sophisticated package of telecommunications services including low-cost broadband and free voice over IP (VoIP) phone calls, thanks to an innovative service from local company YSL Group.

The service, which has been piloted at Midstream Estate near Midrand, offers not only reliable, high-speed internet access but also a full suite of telephony, SMS and fax services all integrated with Microsoft Outlook 2007.
“Many residents work from home either a few days a week or permanently and reliable communications services are essential to them,” says Louis Yssel, YSL chief executive officer. “At Midrand Estates every household has its own fibre-optic cable connection to our data centre, enabling very fast internet access as well as high-quality voice calls.”  Residents are currently enjoying high international connection speeds considerably faster than a typical ADSL connection.
All calls within the estate are free, a significant advantage in a largely self-contained digital village that boasts its own school, shopping centre, filling station, office park and restaurants.
The integration of all communications services enables YSL to deliver a single bill to each household for all its phone calls, faxes and text messages, all of which can be managed from Outlook – or Entourage in the case of Mac users.
“We run our own Hosted Exchange infrastructure which enables us to deliver a complete unified communications solution,” says Yssel. “Residents can opt to receive all their faxes, voicemail messages and call records directly into their Outlook inbox and make calls using their computers. We also support fax machines for those who need to send traditional faxes and we have people using everything from USB handsets to cordless headsets and cordless phones to make and receive calls.”
In future, YSL plans to integrate its communication solution with estate security, offering access and cameras. It already has automatic emergency dialing if a phone is left off the hook for more than 30 seconds.
“I believe what we’re offering is unique in South Africa,” says Yssel. “Nowadays people expect internet connectivity as part of the infrastructure when they buy a new house. A simple intercom system with basic POP email accounts is not enough. We’ve done a great deal of research and we know that this is what people want in a gated community.”
While this is YSL’s first implementation of integrated communications for a residential community, it already has several years’ experience with similar projects for corporate sites. “Basically, this is a solution that can be implemented anywhere with a sufficiently dense population,” says Yssel. “We look forward to empowering many more communities in the future.”