IP telephony adoption in South Africa seems to have finally turned the corner – although only in the large enterprise market, where the anticipated emergence of pure IP systems has finally come to fruition, paving the way for feature-rich unified communications platforms. 

In BMI-TechKnowledge's latest report, "The SA PABX and Converged Voice Systems Market", it found that the converged PABX (CBX) market achieved liftoff in 2006 and gathered further momentum in 2007.
The report valued the CBX market at R265-million last year, representing more than 10% of all PABX-related revenues. This is a massive leap considering that in the years between 2003 and 2005 sales of CBX systems hovered around the 5% mark.
A significant proportion of CBX systems are associated with large call centre implementations, but they are also used for general enterprise telephony.
However, the majority of activity in the market for IP-enabled voice systems is still found in the augmentation of customers’ existing digital PBX infrastructure. The cost of IP enabled handsets is often cited as an important inhibitor to adoption of pure IP systems, along with the costly necessity of the replacement of network cabling.
Other perceived obstacles on the road to the envisaged IP telephony future include the high cost of bandwidth, the reliability of PC and LAN based applications and the shortage of savvy technical staff capable of supporting them. Medium-sized enterprises need to be educated about the benefits of these systems and their integration with everyday business processes.
However, for larger enterprises, particularly in ‘greenfield’ installations there is a strong desire to future-proof their infrastructure purchases, even if they are not fully exploiting the promise of feature-rich unified communications functionality just yet.
In the small PABX systems market, the BMI-T report showed that the general economic slowdown in 2008 is set to reflect in a slower rate of growth this year compared with a record year in 2007.
SMEs are traditionally much more sensitive to a business downturn, although this time around the impact of a downturn has been somewhat cushioned by the fact that some leading suppliers offer SME customers the option of signing a rental agreement, thus replacing capital outlay for new equipment with a more manageable operating expense.
These offerings have been available for more than two years, so we are seeing an ongoing trend that began even before the economic slowdown emerged.
On a longer-term basis, an eventual upswing in consumer confidence is likely to underpin a marked resurgence in small PABX systems sales in the SME market. This market is not yet saturated, and sales of both new PABX sites and upgrades will continue unabated for the foreseeable future.