Gone are the days when South African consumers and corporations had just one option for addressing their telecoms needs. These days, the industry is abuzz with new providers entering the market, rolling out their own infrastructure and offering its services at competitive prices.
Yet many business owners and private consumers still seem reluctant to switch over to these alternatives and to embrace new generation telephony solutions, such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).
A survey that was conducted by IDC at the end of 2011 and recently cited in the media found that South Africans are still slow to adopt VoIP. According to the results of the survey, only 22% of enterprise voice traffic in South Africa occurs over VoIP connections.
IDC revealed that, while 52% of local enterprises were using PC-based VoIP solutions, only 17,8% were using a hosted VoIP solution.
“Despite new operators rolling out fibre and WiMAX alternatives, consumers are under the wrongful impression that fixed line still provides the most stable connections and the fastest broadband speeds,” says Mondi Hattingh, co-director of Skywire Technologies.
However, a recently released study found that South Africa’s broadband Internet speeds are much slower than the global average. Ookla’s Net Index placed South Africa 122nd out of 180 countries, measured according to download speed.
The average consumer download speed is 3,42Mbps compared to 12,73Mbps worldwide, and South African broadband users lag behind places such as Tajikstan, Mongolia, Cambodia, and far behind the fastest broadband providing nation in Africa, Mauritania, which placed 13th on the Index.
The other major factor – one which all businesses care about – is cost. In terms of the relative price of access to broadband, South Africa fared no better during the study. Ookla’s Net Index found that while South African broadband speeds are among the slowest, it is among the most expensive too, ranking 58th out of 64 countries.
According to the Index, the cost of each Mbps in South Africa is calculated at more than $37.
On the mobile front, things don’t look much better either. Alan Knott-Craig, the CEO of Cell C, one of South Africa’s cellular operators, was quoted as saying that despite the fact that mobile costs have seen a steep decline, South Africa is still the 98th most expensive country out of 150 in the world and that the cost is still too prohibitive for the country’s large, lower economic group.
While all of this might seem utterly discouraging, the news is not all bad, says Hattingh.
“Although the statistics show that South Africa still lags behind the rest of the world in terms of broadband Internet penetration, the demand for it definitely exists. The country’s telecommunications industry is thriving with alternative providers that are deploying their own network infrastructure,” he explains.
“In Skywire’s case, due to our use of microwave-based wireless technology, we can serve customers in those remote rural places beyond Telkom’s reach.”