Primarily driven by increased access to fibre-based high-speed internet connectivity, there has been a growing shift by the providers of applications to enhance their products. In addition to their initial function, communications services that replace traditional voice and video calling have now been added by many OTT (Over-The-Top) players. While this bodes well for the App’s goals to capture minds and wallets of users, the benefit for South Africans has been a decline in call costs over the past years, as well as the abundance of choice.
Beyond the known calling apps like WhatsApp, even social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have now evolved to offer voice and video calling, some with the ability to add multiple people to the same call – ideal for allowing the whole family to catch up. And then, you have to take into account the use of dedicated tools such as Teams or Zoom at larger organisations and enterprises.
In order to offer more services, app makers have carried out improvements in stability and functionality, allowed for adaptability to variable speeds, and introduced measures to deal with packet loss-making for a far more seamless experience that offers a compelling alternative. Combined offerings from vendors means that they look to provide the user with a seamless experience across mobile and desktop applications, the services they use, as well as across all their communications needs – including traditional voice calling.
With many still home-based, whether fully or partially, access to both these applications as well as quality high speed connectivity has seen a noticeable shift in which South Africans now communicate. Voice or video calling via these apps has become mainstream, and we hardly ever think of using our desktop phones – or our cell phone voice minutes – anymore.
With several large corporations looking to grow their market share in this space, tight competition has helped drive down costs. This can be easily seen by looking at a modern cellphone contract, where the bulk of the cost goes toward the device itself, and not the cost of the voice minutes. Similarly for a fixed-line voice line, the lion’s share goes toward the link itself, and not the voice component. This is the opposite of what we used to see a few years ago.
Even businesses have taken advantage of these developments by turning to these applications in order to cut down on communications costs – a stark difference from a few years ago, when these applications – and even their websites – were often actively blocked by company firewalls.
Underpinning the evolution in these applications has been the constant improvement to the local internet, with fibre connectivity being the most wanted for its speed and reliability. At one time, internet packages would be sold with “video ready” branding to signify that the throughput provided was sufficient enough to stream video. Thanks to technologies such as fibre, we have been able to move from less than 1Mbps at the start to 1Gbps today – an exponential increase. Since it is static, fibre is also a far more reliable and predictable method of connectivity, meaning that the user experiences steady throughput at all times, making it ideal for latency-sensitive applications.
Mobile networks play a part as well, and there is increasingly a symbiotic relationship between the two. Fixed wireless can be a good failover, while fibre networks are increasingly being used by mobile networks for backhaul traffic, with just the ‘last mile’ connection between the base station and the end-user being wireless.
To cater to our changing behaviours, we could even see new all-in-one packages from operators that combine fibre, fixed-line and mobile to serve all of the users communications needs – highlighting the importance of redundancy and flexibility.
Due to the vast nature of the country it will not be viable to extend fibre networks everywhere, and mobile networks will continue to play a vital role in connecting those people who live beyond South Africa’s major urban centres and secondary cities and towns. Fibre networks currently cover some 3.5 million homes, a fraction of the total, and it is here that LTE – and in future, 5G – will help bridge the gap.
- Shane Chorley, Head of Sales and Marketing at Frogfoot Networks