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With the global hosted PBX (private branch exchange) market expected to top $9 billion by 2023, companies have embraced these and other voice over internet protocol (VoIP) solutions for competitive advantage. But how is this shift impacting service providers when it comes to digital VoIP?

Traditional PBX systems were expensive, difficult to maintain, and near impossible to scale. The emergence of VoIP alleviated some of these challenges but still required a gateway solution to convert the analogue (PBX) signal to digital (VoIP). So, while this kind of VoIP enabled a more digital-friendly environment, it was still far from ideal as solutions still had many of the same problems they started with.

In South Africa, the arrival of VoIP coincided with the arrival of undersea cables – bringing with them more affordable bandwidth and other connectivity solutions such as fibre. The local regulatory environment was also changing, with Telkom no longer solely responsible for communication services in the country.

The first forays into VoIP resulted in huge growth and provided businesses of all sizes and across industry sectors more affordable and reliable means to improve telephony efficiencies and agility.  However, there was still an analogue hangover…

Fast forward a couple of years and the hosted, cloud-based PBX environments started laying the foundation for the more thorough digital voice transformation that is currently being experienced.  There was suddenly no need for the complicated hardware sitting within a premise.  Service providers started moving to a pay-per-use model for VoIP and PBX solutions that were more easily tailored to specific business needs and could scale as an organisation grew.

Innovation driving the shift

Today, using an analogue landline might seem like a foreign concept for many organisations, especially those who have embraced cloud-based solutions. The simplicity of adding new users (and devices) to these hosted PBX environments mean VoIP has become a business standard across South Africa.

And with service providers being able to split data and voice over the same network, the crystal-clear digital call quality is a significant improvement over the grainy copper wire-based telephony of the past.

Naturally, the incumbents and service providers who benefited from Least-Cost Routing in the past were forced to reinvent themselves to be more open for the digitally-led shift taking place in the South African market.

In this environment, vendors and service providers have started focusing on innovations such as fixed-to-mobile convergence (transforming a mobile phone into a single utilitarian device).  Or software-based telephony, where your laptop could act as your reception, phone, video conference tool and more.

Mobile applications exist which can integrate with a hosted PBX solution and can intelligently route voice traffic between an office environment and an off-site one.

For example, instead of having three devices (Eg. landline telephone, laptop for video chat and mobile phone), a person now would only need one. If you are in the office, calls are routed through to your handset on the Hosted PABX platform. Should you leave the office environment, the call can be handed over to your mobile phone seamlessly leveraging WIFI or GSM network. Many applications, like Skype for Business & Google Hangouts, will allow you to participate in video conferences from your phone whereby using mobile data.

Importantly, a data call is more cost-effective than a more traditional GSM-based one. And while voice quality while out in the field is not comparable to the digital VoIP in the office due to varying internet speeds, it is a sacrifice many are prepared to make to have the cost-benefit.

Reinvesting for growth – Digital VoIP

Taking these savings and re-investing them in technology, for instance, robust connectivity or next-generation software solutions will pay dividends in these times of disruption.

Redundancy is still a big issue when it comes to digital solutions. Although fibre Internet is much more stable than other options, it is still possible for a fibre line to break during construction, leaving a company without any internet (and telephony) access until it is repaired. A single fibre line is therefore not the answer to communication needs in a digital world.  Companies need to consider other options such as microwave links which use completely different technology and are geographically separated. This provides them with a ground-based solution (fibre) as well as an aerial one (microwave). In this way, they have the necessary redundancy in the event of a disaster.

Smaller organisations could opt for fibre and mobile. So, if the fixed-line goes down, they have their cell phones and mobile data to fall back on. Irrespective of the option chosen, it is imperative that there is redundancy and a business does not only rely on one method of connectivity.  So while VoIP savings might get eaten up by connectivity solutions (for instance) the other benefits to the business are incalculable, especially to businesses which are fully embracing, and reliant on, the Cloud.

As digital integrates even more into the business environment, further opportunities for driving down costs will become available. It is all about being willing to adapt and open for the change that VoIP and other hosted solutions will bring…

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