ARC Telecoms has made the first move in the South African Voice over Internet environment to remove the ‘hidden cost’ of VoIP – the bandwidth fee for carrying the encoded voice over the data network.

Traditionally, VoIP providers have charged the per-second cost of each telephone call, but also counted the bandwidth used against their customers’ monthly caps. Now, ARC Telecoms has zero-rated its clients’ voice traffic, meaning that voice calls to other networks only incur their per-second charge, and on-net calls within the ARC network community are 100% free.

“The great promise of Voice over IP was that it would essentially make phone calls free – that the 16kbps or 20kbps each voice call took up would be negligible compared to the rest of the data traffic,” explains Steve Briggs, CEO of ARC Telecoms. “This is almost, but not totally, true. Telecoms service providers charge from a few cents to a rand or more per minute depending on the destination of the voice call, but still tot up the data traffic and charge the client for that as well.

“ARC made the decision to zero rate telephony traffic on principle – voice is a service provided by the data network, and should not carry a double-dip fee. From now, our VoIP customers only pay once for what they are buying.”

He adds that the change to zero-rating voice call data will be of interest to financial controllers, who want simple, clear billing to allow them to manage their business’ costs properly.

“We believe this is the right thing to do, for our customers, and the industry. Unlike application and browsing traffic, which just gets bigger and bigger in volume, the traffic taken by a single voice call is now pretty much a constant.

“Over the next few years, the proportion that voice makes up of total customer traffic will fall and fall. Right now, if one person was to call non-stop all day, every working day for a month, they’d use less than 1.5GB in data. Within a few years this will be a drop in the total data bucket,” says Briggs.

“We want to move South Africa to the more flexible, more cost-effective world of VoIP. We need to reduce cost for customers – but also make it clear that telephony must be managed and costed according to its nature – it is realtime and needs to be managed in a different way from transaction or Web or email traffic.”