Voice over IP, or VoIP, has been around for many years, and yet adoption of this technology, especially in South Africa, has been slow.
This is due to a number of reasons, chief among which in this country was the fact that infrastructure and bandwidth issues and the cost of solving these problems have often negated any cost savings benefit offered by the technology.
This is according to Gail Holt, MD at official Polycom distributor Zycko. She explains, "Added to this has been concern over security, something of a global problem, and the teething problems experienced by any new technology which slowed adoption of VoIP in the overseas market.
"However, since the issues experienced by those first implementers of VoIP have largely been solved, the adoption of VoIP technology has been on the increase around the world, and Voice over IP technology is poised to become the new standard in telephony in the future."
South Africa too has seen a surge in the popularity of VoIP, thanks both to the maturity of the technology and vast improvements to infrastructure. Additional bandwidth has become more readily available at lesser cost than previously, due to the number of undersea cables that have landed in the country, solving one of the core challenges to the adoption of VoIP in the country.
In fact, according to Frost and Sullivan, in 2010 the growth in VoIP revenue in South Africa is estimated at around 20%, above the global average of 18%, and this growth is only set to accelerate with VoIP growth predicted to be around 42% by 2016.
The single major factor that has hindered the adoption of VoIP in South Africa has been bandwidth, both the lack of availability and the cost. The capability for businesses to implement VoIP technology has been around as long as it has in the rest of the world; however, in the past getting around the bandwidth limitations involved enormous cost, which made the ROI of such a solution unappealing.
Nonetheless, thanks to the undersea cables and infrastructure improvements that have been made in the country over the past few years, and the increased availability, reliability and quality of bandwidth along with lowering costs, have helped to drive growth in the VoIP environment in South Africa.
Ultimately this growth will level out on par with the rest of the world, but for the next few years this space is set for enormous growth.
Adds Chris Wortt, Polycom VoIP sales manager, EMEA, "That being said, the VoIP space has the potential for accelerated growth all over the world, as the currently accepted model is set to change once more. VoIP has evolved and providers are now offering unified communications (UC) solutions, which build on the capabilities of VoIP to offer additional services integrated into one package.
"One area which is poised for future growth is that of hosted UC offerings, which will open the market up to a broader range of potential clients and will offer significant growth opportunities for the next decade or more.
"The advancement and growth of the cloud is simultaneously driving growth in UC offerings as this enables things such as VoIP and integrated messaging to become more available, accessible and affordable to a wider market."
At the same time, the growth of the tablet PC is driving a parallel market, working with the cloud to deliver smarter devices with access to applications in the cloud. This will enable smart tablets that can easily
deliver conferencing, unified messaging and VoIP based on services delivered through the cloud, so to access UC all that is needed is a stable Internet connection.
This represents another are where the use of VoIP will grow steadily over the next few years.
"Locally, the growth of the hosted UC and VoIP market will further drive growth as this will open up VoIP to the SMB market, a sector which previously could not access this technology due to the high cost and large capital outlay required," says Holt.
"This growth will carry to the enterprise space as executive level engagement has grown and now board level CXO executives are taking a more hands on approach to IT, demanding more technology with less cost.
"This is further driving the adoption of VoIP, which initially is almost always a cost saving discussion, and with the growth of hosted VoIP will enable even greater cost efficiency while providing access to advanced features and technology."
The VoIP bandwagon is now steadily rolling in South Africa, and VoIP from a desktop perspective has evolved steadily over the years to enable integration with other environment, features and functionality such as instant messaging, Microsoft Exchange and presence management.
As hosted UC continues to grow, service providers will be looking for additional services to offer, bundling this enhanced functionality into the cloud so organisations can access advanced technology easily and cost effectively.
"The VoIP discussion, while still fairly new as a viable option in South Africa, is evolving rapidly into a UC discussion, driven by a desire for greater productivity and cost savings ability and made possible by the increasing availability of hosted UC services," concludes Wortt.
"This is driving adoption, especially in the SMB space, as the barriers to entry have all but been removed, allowing organisations of all sizes to take advantage of a richer experience than a standard phone call with collaborative features to enhance effectiveness and productivity."