VoIP in South Africa
by Leon Coetzee
Voice communication over the Internet will definitely be the
largest growing technology application in the South African
business sector in 2005. According to a survey by World Wide
Worx (www.theworx.biz), an estimated 80% of South African
corporations will be using this technology by the end of
Is VoIP available to everyone?
Up until the 1st of February 2005,
VoIP in South Africa could legally only be
used within an organisation's own network.
In September 2004, Communications Minister
Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburri announced the
deregulation of the telecommunications
industry, legalising the use of VoIP
by all telephone communications.
What is VoIP?
VoIP allows the user to make telephone calls using a computer or
data network such as the Internet.
a traditional telephone call, voice data flows over circuit-switched
phone lines owned and operated by your phone company and
interconnected to other phone company lines all over the world. A
circuit or “pipe” between you and the person you are calling is
opened and stays open for the duration of the call. No one else can
intrude upon that circuit and use it while you are using it. This
technology for making phone calls is old school—it’s been around for
over one hundred years — and it is jocularly referred to as “Plain
Old Telephone Service”, (POTS). The network that runs this service
is called the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
Using VoIP, your voice conversation is digitised, (converted to
data). In effect, your digitised voice call shares space with lots
of other voice calls, email, data transfers, et al, and as a result
is much less expensive to operate.
With VoIP, therefore, the signal from your telephone is converted
into a digital signal, chopped up, and sent in “packets” over the
Internet. Lots of packets from lots of sources use the same pipe
that travels over the internet. It is then converted it back at the
other end to finish its journey so that the user can speak to anyone
with a regular phone number.
is important to note that VoIP is not limited to voice
communication. In fact, a number of efforts have been made to change
this popular marketing term to better reflect the fact that VoIP
means voice, video, and data conferencing. All such attempts have
failed up to this point, but please do understand that video
telephony and real-time text communication ToIP, for example, is
definitely within the scope of the VoIP.
VoIP is important because, for the first time in more than 100
years, there is an opportunity to bring about significant change in
the way that people communicate. In addition to being able to use
the telephones we have today to communicate in real-time, we also
have the possibility of using pure IP-based phones, including
desktop and wireless phones. We also have the ability to use
videophones, much like those seen in science fiction movies. Rather
than calling home to talk to the family, a person can call home to
see the family.
One of the more interesting aspects of VoIP is that we also have the
ability to integrate a stand-alone telephone or videophone with the
personal computer. One can use a computer entirely for voice and
video communications (softphones), use a telephone for voice and the
computer for video, or can simply use the computer in conjunction
with a separate voice/video phone to provide data conferencing
functions, like application sharing, electronic whiteboarding, and
VoIP allows something else: the ability to use a single high-speed
Internet connection for all voice, video, and data communications.
This idea is commonly referred to as convergence and is one of the
primary drivers for corporate interest in the technology. The
benefit of convergence should be fairly obvious: by using a single
data network for all communications, it is possible to reduce the
overall maintenance and deployment costs. The benefit for both home
and corporate customers is that they now have the opportunity to
choose from a much larger selection of service providers to provide
voice and video communication services. Since the VoIP service
provider can be located virtually anywhere in the world, a person
with Internet access is no longer geographically restricted in their
selection of service providers and is certainly not bound to their
Internet access provider.
- In short, VoIP enables people to communicate in more ways and with
Technical differences between VoIP and traditional PSTN.
Current phone networks are used for the same purpose as VOIP i.e.
one person speaking to another. However PSTN networks need complex
circuit switching to route calls to their destination. VoIP uses
existing IP technology i.e. the internet or your network. It uses
Packet switching to send information - directing only the “packets”
of voice data to their destination.
This requires much less infrastructure than the old
telecommunications technologies used in the UK - saving a
considerable amount of money for the user. For businesses who want
many lines they have to have these lines installed and routed
through the building.
With VOIP they can often use existing network infrastructure and
just increase bandwidth as they need to. You might not even need
trailing wires if you are using a wireless network.
This technology has numerous advantages over the current system,
mainly in cost reduction, but also in future capacity and
capabilities. It would not be difficult to combine VoIP with other
existing technologies such as streaming video.
Major telecom’s companies often use VoIP “in the middle” of the
virtual connection of your phone call, especially in long-distance
or transatlantic calls. Many users are unaware that their call is
converted from PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) to VoIP and
then back to PSTN to the receiver of the call.
For the home user with access to a fast internet connection or a
small business thinking about implementing VoIP to save costs it is
worth noting that while VoIP is undergoing rapid adoption by large
companies and telecoms networks it still has some work to be done to
make it accessible to all at economic cost.