Democratising Telecoms In South Africa... and beyond
Partnership Will Help Operators in Emerging Market Offer VoIP and Next-Generation Services Easily and Cost-Effectively.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Multisource, the South African wireless services provider, and London-based XConnect, providing next-generation interconnection and carrier ENUM-registry services, have formed a partnership to help South African service providers take advantage of growing opportunities in the country’s increasinglycompetitive telecommunications market.
AN INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE
The partnership, known as XConnect SA, will establish a multilateral peering federation, which will offer operators advanced VoIP and next-generation network (NGN) peering capabilities via an in-country interconnection hub. The Federation will provide a simple, cost-effective means for exchanging traffic within Southern Africa and globally. The newly appointed CEO of XConnect SA, Christopher Geerdts, said the partnership underpins the principles of Interconnect 2.0, ushering in the next generation of VoIP in South Africa. “Our vision is to democratise voice and multimedia communications by empowering telecommunications players to focus on growing their core businesses whilst reducing barriers of complexity and costs,” he said. He added that one of the key benefits of Interconnect 2.0 is the ‘IP-all-the-way’ principle, which ensures that the quality of calls is maintained and multimedia services can be fully utilised. The Federation services will be launched in May, enabling operators to interconnect their networks and to route calls seamlessly and efficiently through a scalable, multilateral interconnection hub. This single regional hub, enabling multi-lateral IP Interconnection and Peering is based in Telehouse at Teraco in Johannesburg. The single hub will offer, for the first time in Africa, two significant and primary benefits, namely a single point of interconnection between all providers, and subsequently policy management of the interconnection point for those service providers. This considerably reduces the overall costs of managing a complex set of interconnections, in addition to managing interoperability issues between protocols, particularly when set within the imminent multimedia and High Definition (HD) voice environment.With fibre connectivity bringing the possibility of more and improved services, at lower costs, South Africa is on the cusp of a genuine democratisation of its telecoms environment, and a paradigm shift from simply a VoIP environment to a SoIP (Services over Internet Protocol) landscape. The possibility of HD voice and improved multimedia services become a reality through the creation of this single regional hub. In April 2010, U.S. VoIP service providers offering highdefinition (HD) voice services participated in a trial of the world’s first IP-peering federation created for exchanging HD voice traffic. HD voice reproduces human speech with substantially greater clarity, depth and nuance, using codecs that capture more than double the frequency range of traditional circuit-switched calls while generally requiring less bandwidth. The rich, naturalsounding quality of HD voice calls often is likened to that of face-to-face conversations. As a result, fixed, mobile and Web 2.0 service providers are increasingly adopting HD voice as an added value because it enables superior-quality voice communications compared with those supported by the legacy PSTN. However, most HD voice services today are available only within a given operator’s network. Global utilisation of HD voice will require crossnetwork calling, with the entire call path and all endpoints supporting the rich features. The Global Alliance of Federations was set up to enable this. XConnect CEO Eli Katz comments: “Our Interconnect 2.0 services are ideally suited to helping operators in South Africa overcome the challenges of next-generation interconnection and peering. The federation will enable easy interworking and interoperability between fixed, mobile and Web 2.0 networks.” The Global Alliance enables members to deliver advanced IP services across regional and global networks, as well as decrease costs and increase service quality. In addition to reducing termination costs, service providers are spared the considerable time and resource allocations of establishing and maintaining separate interconnection agreements with each of numerous providers. End-to-end IP interconnection also allows for higher call quality than the PSTN can support, as well as multimedia features. “With the proliferation of IP and VoIP players, the complexities and associated costs of interconnecting operators and telecommunication networks have become central concerns for South African service providers,” said Multisource CEO Richard Smuts-Steyn. “To compete successfully in our country’s emerging telecoms market, operators need a secure and scalable point of interconnection and the comprehensive services our federation will offer.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
“As we enter an era of explosive growth in South Africa’s VoIP market, in terms of services and complexity, service providers are looking for solutions that can offer more cost-effective ways of communicating and carry the functionally rich bouquet of multimedia communications from end to end,” he added. Smuts-Steyn noted that interconnectivity extends beyond traditional voice connections to include the multimedia environment. For example, he said: “When you talk with someone on Skype, you are able to use both voice and video. When you break out of the Skype environment and connect to a cell phone, you lose the valueadded video connectivity. This is because many networks do not support the complexity of multimedia interconnection. The new federation will provide technically elegant interconnect across all mediums.”The ultimate goal of this partnership is to create a virtual network and provide regional services that instantly integrate with all networks globally, and create a truly global service similar to markets in Europe, North America and the Far East. Within a regional context, the agreement keeps Africa at the forefront of developments in ICT and ensures that the momentum of the last decade towards ICT’s as enablers of development and change remains unabated.
Sidebar: THE 2008 ALTECH RULING: THE IMPLICATIONS FOR AFRICA
The 2008 Altech Ruling by the South African High Court, under Judge Davis heralded the era of true liberalization for the country’s telecom sector. The Transvaal Division of the High Court ruled in favour of an urgent application brought by Altech Autopage Cellular on the question of whether VANS are allowed to self-provide (build their own networks or lease these facilities from companies such as Telkom). “It is declared that the applicant [Altech Autopage] was entitled to self-provide its own telecommunications facilities from 1 February 2005,” acting judge AJ Davis wrote in his judgment. The South African landscape shifted from 2 fixed, and 3 mobile providers (Telkom, Neotel, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C) to up to six hundred fully converged license holders with provisioning rights). According to Alison Gillwald, Director, Research ICT Africa!, The EDGE Institute, “The judgement cuts through the defence of the Ministry and ICASA that any automatic granting of network licences to former VANS operators would result in absurd proliferation of network providers that was not sustainable in terms of the scarce resources required to do so.” This he points out, is simply not correct. Only spectrum is scarce and it is anyway licensed separately. The real cost of building and operating a network would anyway inhibit all 600 potential applicants from operating a network. The benefits to the consumer cannot be under estimated, yet an immediate constraint becomes the ability of multiple service providers to interconnect, and the regulations thereof. ICASA’s Regulations on Interconnect specifies that all providers must interconnect upon request, by law. The days of bi-lateral interconnections are numbered with the requirement for a shift to multi-lateral agreements becoming essential.