Connectivity company iBurst is planning to launch a voice service before the end of this year, for its on-net clients first, with a full offering to become operational in the first quarter of 2007, says iBurst MD Alan Knott-Craig Junior.
Knott-Craig says iBurst has been aware for some time that its users have been making use of various voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services, such as Skype, over its network, but adds that it cannot determine the volume of traffic.
The company originally indicated it would begin offering a voice service in July 2005; however, it says it delayed the offering as it felt the market was not ready for it yet.
"After conducting further research into a VOIP offering, iBurst decided the market was not ready for a proprietary iBurst offering. As recently as 2005, consumers were still struggling to understand mass-appeal VOIP products like Skype. Now that we have let Skype, MSN Messenger with voice, and the like educate the market, iBurst is gearing up to introduce a VOIP solution," Knott-Craig adds.
iBurst's voice service will initially be offered through a third party, but the company plans to run the service entirely in the future.
He says iBurst is able to offer the service under its existing value-added network service licence and has received a numbering range from the Independent Communications Authority of SA.
Alternative voice network
BMI-TechKnowledge analyst Richard Hurst says iBurst is well positioned to offer voice services to consumers; however, such services will be a secondary offering, or a value-add, as the primary connection for most South Africans is GSM cellular networks.
"This is a positioning for an alternative voice network. Offerings such as Skype are already working on their network and so this is a case of getting in bed with them now rather than later," he says.
At the beginning of the month, national signal distributor Sentech said it had teamed up with VOIP service provider Storm to offer a voice service over its BizNet Xpress wireless connectivity product that is aimed at the corporate market.
Storm's new business development director Dave Gale says he expects a rush of offerings in the coming year as more entrants begin to look at overcoming last mile (the final connection) challenges to offer such services.
"A lot of the new entrants will find the market difficult because it is capex-intensive and the margins will get hammered once competition heats up," he says.
Gale says Storm originally contemplated doing a VOIP service with iBurst a year-and-a-half ago, but felt then the network was not stable enough.
"Since then iBurst has invested a lot of money into the network and it seems to have improved a lot, so it makes sense for the company to offer voice now," he says.