Converging communications 2007


Mike Brierley
CEO: MTN Network Solutions

While the local ICT industry talks a lot of big talk about convergence, it is actually a slow process, meaning that the changes in the market will be very gradual. A perfect example of this is the Voice over IP (VOIP) phenomenon, which has had a lot of noise made about it in the past couple of years, but the penetration with regards to VOIP is still relatively small.

There has been a tendency to focus more on the least cost routing (LCR) model, because in the VOIP space the only areas where one can genuinely offer savings are with calls between branches and on international calls. Part of the problem is that interconnect rates are too expensive, and hence VOIP cannot compete with LCR solutions. Even though Telkom and the cell operators are offering interconnect, I don’t know of anyone who is actually moving any volume of real VOIP calls yet. Part of the reason for this is that most businesses are waiting to see what sort of ruling ICASA makes regarding interconnect rates, as this could have a major impact on the telecoms marketplace.

The future holds a lot of potential, despite the problems outlined above. We will see a change in office environments in the near future, whereby dualmode devices, which can operate on a GSM and a Wi-Fi network, will replace the traditional desktop telephone. This will mean that you will have a single device that allows you to use your cellphone to connect to your IP PBX using a Wi-Fi network while you’re in the office, but the ability to utilise a GSM network when you’re on the move. This is real convergence.

It also means you will have a single phone number, so your mobile number will become your office number as well, as we move towards a true a convergence of mobile, IP and Web technologies. How will such devices affect people’s private lives? Lack of privacy is something of a standard problem that we have created within our modern society, and it will continue. People tend to work strange hours these days – the biggest peak for data usage on the mobile networks is between 8pm and 10pm on Sundays. While some of this can be put down to surfing, there’s no doubt that a large percentage is work-related.

A major issue still to be resolved, and which could also affect the future of true convergence, is spectrum allocation. ICASA hasn’t yet issued additional spectrum, and most organisations that already have access to spectrum are holding on to it but aren’t using it, so we haven’t seen any decent WiMAX roll-outs. Nor have we seen the use of Wi-Fi to reduce the cost of last mile access.

The various players in this space, including ISPs and the metropolitan councils (such as those in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg) are all waiting to see what ICASA ’s decision will be in regards to who will be allocated spectrum. While it is vital is that the regulator allocate the spectrum judiciously, it must also be done as quickly as possible. If the spectrum is opened up to more of the key players in the telecoms space, it will create additional competition, which will undoubtedly help the convergence paradigm which is ultimately driven by cost.

8 July 2009