VOIP For Small Businesses – Is It Worth It?

Small businesses might have heard the term VoIP – but they might not be too sure why it should matter to them and their organisation in particular.

Businesses might have legacy phone systems that use analog or ISDN ( Integrated Services Digital Network) phone lines to make and receive calls.

Small businesses are no strangers to the headaches these systems present, including dropped calls, costly on-site installation and maintenance fees as telephonic infrastructure fades over time.

The good news is that switching to VoIP might just be the answer to any business’ communication system headaches.

voip for small businesses

What is VoIP?

VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol, and uses IP networks to make and receive calls.

Simply, this means that VOIP calls are made and received using a business’ internet connection rather than via analog landlines, eliminating the need for traditional telephony infrastructure like cables and handsets.

Although examples of this kind of technology include household names like WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom, VOIP is actually far more versatile and can be implemented to assist small businesses and their communication operations.

In the early days, VOIP received some criticism from skeptics over call quality, for the most part, due to internet connections not being fast enough or entirely reliable. Today, however, VOIP is the gold standard for handling calls of all kinds, and is renowned for its superior quality, amongst other key benefits that make moving away from a legacy phone system, a no-brainer.

voip phone and voip headset

How does VOIP work?

In simple terms, VOIP works by converting analog audio signals into digital signals, compressing and transmitting them in the form of data via broadband/the Internet. This negates the need for analog or ISDN landlines and physical hardware to connect multiple employees to the same phone system.

It is a secure, high quality way of making calls, at reduced cost, with minimal hardware installation required. But more about that later.

Check out this diagram that covers how VOIP works:
how does voip work diagram

Benefits of VOIP: Why should small businesses use VOIP?

There are plenty of benefits that come with replacing a legacy phone system with VOIP services for a small business, from minimal downtime, to significant monthly savings on phone bills.

headsets for receiving voip calls on desk monitor

Cost effective call rates with VOIP

The low call rates associated with VOIP are one of the reasons why more and more small businesses decide to get rid of their traditional phone systems. Whilst data costs have decreased year on year, especially in South Africa – the phone bill for legacy phone systems probably hasn’t changed all that much.

Let’s compare traditional landline costs with those of VOIP.

For a traditional landline there’s the line rental fee, followed by monthly packaged costs for making local calls, and possibly some out of bundle fees for making or receiving calls to and from international clients.

With VOIP, charges only apply for the extensions in use, rather than being tied down to a fixed monthly line rental.

Another benefit is that cost per call rates can be up to 68% lower using VOIP compared to a traditional landline because there is no cable infrastructure to maintain. This same cost saving is applicable to international calls, with a cheaper cost per call rate. VoIP also provides the ability to purchase a number in another country to handle international calls, which can help reduce cost per call rates even further.

For small businesses, finding ways to reduce monthly expenses, without compromising on business efficiency, has a positive impact on the bottom line in the long run.

Cut the costs incurred by the business’ current monthly phone bill, take action and switch to VOIP to start saving!* immediately!

video conference call over VOIP

Scalable for Small Businesses

Small businesses need telephony systems that can scale as the business grows.

With a traditional legacy PBX system, it’s necessary to have more lines available for more employees as the business scales, which means adding more physical phone connections, handsets and possibly even upgrading the PBX system entirely.

Using VOIP services gets rid of the need for physical landlines, costly on-site installations and proprietary handsets. With VOIP, adding more employees to access a company’s call system is a breeze and requires no extra hardware while also having the choice to integrate the current PBX system or get access to a Cloud based PBX system in order to manage the calls made and received.

Small businesses have often already invested in, or plan to invest in fibre connectivity. Faster internet is a compelling reason to migrate to VOIP and in doing so, it allows businesses to cut monthly costs for traditional phone bills in half.

small business team discussing ideas in coffeeshop

More opportunities with secure, high-quality calls & conferences

Every call that a small business receives is an opportunity to gain a new client and missing calls, or having to talk over each other with a constant “can you hear me?” is less than ideal.

VOIP services provide call quality that is considered the gold standard in telephonic communication, and is more secure, especially compared to traditional landline telephony. VOIP will allow businesses to maintain a crisp quality and a secure connection whether they’re having a voice call or face-to-face video call with clients.

VOIP phones usually come standard with caller ID integrated within the call handling protocol, providing businesses with the ability to screen calls as they come in. There’s also the ability to modify the business’ outbound caller ID should it be necessary.

https://saicom.io/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/saicom-voip-small-business_0006_security-on-mobile-phone-K3PCKG3.jpg

Portability: Ideal for the modern remote working environment

As remote working has become more widely accepted and popular due to the global pandemic, VOIP services have been considered far more preferable than traditional telephone systems.

Traditional phone systems make remote work impossible, as if you’re not coming into the office, you’re missing calls.

With VOIP and SIP (session initiation protocol) trunking, it’s possible to convert a traditional landline PBX system into a cloud based system, giving businesses the ability to contact customers from anywhere.

VOIP phone services allow employees to have access to a small business’ phone systems from anywhere, and from multiple devices. It’s as easy as installing an app on a smartphone, tablet or accessing the business’ VOIP account online via desktop.

VOIP provides access to many features that would be difficult to implement using a legacy phone system.

By using these features to manage inbound and outbound communications, small businesses can rest assured knowing that they aren’t missing opportunities.

multiple devices laid out across workstation

Feature packed with no extra hardware required

VOIP is feature packed. In fact, today’s VOIP services offer many of the same functions like automated assistance, call recording and forward, voicemail and fax to email functionality, amongst others. It is like having a call center and receptionist combined, for minimal extra cost and without any hardware requirements.

Here’s a list of features accessible when switching to VOIP services, including but not limited to:

  • Voicemail
  • Call forwarding
  • Call hold
  • Transfer
  • Call recording
  • Automated attendant & IVR (Interactive Voice Response)
  • Fax to email
  • Unified communication
  • App integration
  • Audio and video conferencing
  • Call ringback
  • Call queuing
  • Instant messaging
  • Video Conferencing
  • Call analytics
  • Toll free number
  • Ability to integrate with live chat, ticketing, comprehensive analytics, and sales CRM software.
  • Porting

Office VOIP phone surrounded by cloud based communication features

Small business’ Questions About VOIP Services Answered:

How much does VOIP cost?

VOIP is more than 50% cheaper than calling using traditional legacy phone systems, and is especially economical when it comes to making international calls which can be incredibly costly.

The cost of VOIP calls in South Africa depends upon the VOIP service provider, and whether the business is making national and international calls.

National calls made using VOIP can incur a per minute charge of around depending on the provider, with no initial fee for making a call.

With VOIP, a monthly fee for the rental of an analog line isn’t necessary and there’s the flexibility of only paying per extension required.

There is a small R100-R200 porting fee to keep the business’ number on a new VOIP provider’s network. After which the business selects a monthly package that covers the amount of minutes required for calls per month.

These combined costs still amount to much lower than the bill a business may expect from a traditional analog landline and phone system.

Traditional landline phones incur a line rental fee per month (around R70-R150 per month), before the first call is made.

A landline call is also usually associated with a minimum charge (around 70c) followed by a per minute charge (usually 30-50c) which can increase depending on how far away the call of the recipient is from the business’ location, with international calls being even more expensive per minute (R3-R5).

So – VOIP in South Africa is definitely the way to go to improve the functionality of a small business’ communications at a monthly cost that is far lower than what the business can expect to be billed for their legacy phone system.

person making call on office VOIP phone

How much data does VOIP use?

A VOIP voice call can use up to 0.5-1.5 megabytes per minute on average whilst a video call via VOIP might use around 3 megabytes per minute. However, this is very dependent on how the VOIP service provider compresses and transmits audio and video data.

The data used will also depend on calling habits and how many calls the business expects to make and receive.

employee analyzing data usage statistics

What type of internet connection/speed does VOIP require?

While internet connection speed may have been more of a concern in the early days of VOIP, today, most internet connections can support VOIP services.

A good VOIP experience will also depend on the number of concurrent calls that need to be made or received – with a higher number of concurrent calls requiring a higher internet connection speed.

connection speed meter: 2G; 3G; 4G; 5G.

Who is the best VOIP service provider in South Africa?

We believe that we are the best VOIP service provider in South Africa. SAICOM provides high quality VOIP services with happy clients that boast about our 99.98% uptime.

Our cost per call varies from client to client, depending on their specific needs. However, we can promise you that your monthly phone bill will be reduced significantly by switching to our VOIP services. Some of our clients have experienced savings of 50% or more per month after integrating VOIP over legacy phone systems.

Another key benefit is that VOIP can be integrated into your current PBX system, allowing you to cut costs, get increased portability and functionality, while retaining your current office phones to answer calls while you’re at the office. When you’re out and about, or remote working you get the added benefit of being able to make and receive calls via desktop and mobile devices.

Conclusion: Is VOIP worth it for small businesses?

The short answer is: absolutely!

VOIP can be a cost cutting asset for small businesses, plus it provides  high quality, secure telephony, and can act as an automated assistant – which is particularly useful if a small business can’t afford a full-time administrative assistant.

Not only will small businesses be able to say goodbye to a significant portion of their monthly phone bill, but the cost per client acquisition might even go down, if clients can be converted at a lower call tariff and to ensure enquiries aren’t missed (with recording and call forwarding to make small businesses more efficient).

Small business owners or key decision makers should make the switch. It’s not complicated and in most cases the setup costs will either be minimal. Then it’s possible to start reaping the benefits of lower call costs and plenty of hand features that VOIP has to offer!

Contact SAICOM to switch to a VOIP service package tailored to the needs of small businesses!

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References

8 benefits of cloud migration & how to migrate

Are you considering moving your business to the cloud?

Having your business  in the cloud provides a variety of opportunities to benefit  operations and improve processes in your organisation.

Here is everything you need to know about cloud migration and why you should do it as soon as possible. We’ll also give you an overview of the migration process.

What is cloud migration?

Cloud migration is the process of moving your business’s digital assets to cloud infrastructure. These assets typically include data, workloads, IT resources and applications.

What is cloud infrastructure?

Cloud infrastructure refers to the infrastructure on the internet where digital assets are stored. The cloud is technically shorthand for cloud computing, and refers to a group of computer services accessed over the internet. These computer services are accessible on-demand and are self-service, providing access to services with minimal setup. Through cloud computing, businesses are able to  store masses of data in data centres around the world.

So, what is cloud migration?

Cloud migration typically refers to moving systems and data from on-premise infrastructure and servers to cloud infrastructure. It also applies to moving business data from one cloud platform to another – or, cloud to cloud migration. Lastly, it can also include refactoring your systems and data to consume it in a different way, using cloud native applications.

Now that it’s clear what cloud migration is, the key as a business owner is to understand the benefits that cloud migration could have for your company.

The benefits of cloud migration

Moving your business to the cloud offers a variety of benefits, which can ultimately make your team more productive and your company more profitable. Here are some of the benefits of migrating your business to the cloud.

1. The cloud offers flexibility

Businesses often have fluctuating bandwidth demands, and a business in the cloud, allows you to upscale or downscale your capacity. Upscaling or downscaling can happen easily because cloud capacity draws on remote servers, and flexibility is part and parcel of the service.

Having a high level of agility can give businesses an extra advantage over their competitors as they are able to bring products to market quicker without being hamstrung by IT.

2. The cloud keeps data safe in case of a disaster

Adopting cloud can help your business implement an effective and affordable disaster recovery solution. Through the use of tools and services offered by service providers, systems and data can be easily protected and moved in a way that best suits your business in terms of it’s disaster recovery plans. Some examples include: replication to other clouds entirely (hot, warm and cold standbys), cloud backups with multiple copies, multi tier applications load balanced across multiple clouds.

3. The cloud provides automatic updates to infrastructure

A significant benefit of cloud computing is that it provides automatic software and security updates on the underlying infrastructure ensuring security best practices and resiliency in the platforms you choose to host your applications and data on.

Many service providers also offer full managed services to gain the same level of security, stability and resilience to the Operating system and mainstream applications. This gives you more time to focus on your business while keeping your data safe and secure.

4. The cloud saves you money on hardware

When you are using the cloud, it decreases the necessity for various hardware such as onsite data storage and servers. These large CAPEX investments happen on a 3-5 year cycle. This means that you will be saving money on hardware that traditionally would have been a necessity for your business. Many cloud providers offer a pay-as-you-go subscription model, which can be helpful for your cash flow.

5. The cloud promotes company collaboration and remote work

The cloud allows employees to collaborate on documents that they can share, access and edit at any time, from anywhere. Many businesses were left with no choice, but to introduce remote working in light of recent events, and online collaboration has become an increasingly important part of many  business strategies.

Using the cloud means that you can have your employees working from anywhere with an internet connection, and still meaningfully collaborate.

6. The cloud provides increased security

Using the cloud means that if a company laptop is lost or stolen you do not lose all of your data as it is backed up to the cloud. Additionally, if you experience load shedding or server downtime using the cloud decreases chances of data being broken or lost.

There are intelligent ways of ensuring that only the individuals that need access to the systems or data have access to them. Thus ensuring your data is always protected.

7. The cloud saves time

There are a few ways that using the cloud can save your business time. When you are collaborating on documents, your team can now share documents quickly and receive feedback quickly. Stopping an endless loop of email attachments.

Additionally, if you are using the cloud with a support service, such as Saicom, you will have support with your use of the cloud and the migration, where you can reach out to the service team at any time – no more waiting for the IT guy to show up! Cloud computing overall saves time and effort.

8. The cloud gives your business a competitive edge

Moving to the cloud provides a simple and efficient way to become more competitive. Through the cloud your business can have access to enterprise-class technologies regardless of your business size. This allows businesses of all sizes access to the same playing field.

The cloud migration process

When you are moving your business to the cloud the process that you follow will depend on the type of migration you want to perform and what workloads you want to move to the cloud.

There are few key elements you will need to consider when you are planning your cloud migration:

  • Evaluating performance and security requirements
  • Selecting the type of cloud: public cloud or private cloud or hybrid cloud
  • Selecting a cloud provider
  • Calculating costs
  • Any necessary reorganisation
  • Any possible refactoring

As part of the planning phase you should prepare for the following steps in the process:

1. Understand why you are migrating

The key question to answer is, why are you moving to the cloud? Is it to modernise your organisation, or save costs? To innovate or increase efficiency?

As a business  leader it is important to be clear on the purpose of migrating to the cloud. This will help you set KPIs to measure the cloud migration process. Ultimately, this will help you know if the migration has been successful by the end of the process.

2. Plan the data migration

A good starting point is looking at what data you can move easily to the cloud and what data has various interdependencies making it more challenging to move. After that, figure out what you migrate first and how you will migrate it.

You will need to plan for the fact that some data will need refactoring, making the migration a more time consuming process. During this planning you will want to figure out how long the migration might take.

It is worthwhile identifying a partner, who can give you professional advice and help you understand your data types, the difficulty of migrating each to the cloud, and how long it will take.

3. Migrate your data to the cloud

Once you have finished planning you can then start migrating your data. It is best to get a professional’s help for this. When you start migrating start with something simple that is not business critical. This increases the chances of a quick win that can boost excitement and provide a learning experience.

During this period you are going to need to test everything before decommissioning your old system – which means  running two environments for a time. Choosing to work with a professional cloud migration service can help decrease the length of time that this has to happen and speed up the physical migration.

Once you are certain that everything is working on the cloud you can then decommission the old system.

4. Don’t stop innovating

Once you have migrated to the cloud, you have taken a big step toward greater innovation for your business. The key now is to not let you give up on continuing to improve the efficiency and innovation in  your business. Look for new tools and improvements that you can make using your new cloud-based data system and keep using the cloud to encourage innovation.

Cloud migration challenges

During the cloud migration process there can be a few challenges that you will need to be prepared for. These challenges include:

  • Interoperability – the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information. You will need to ensure that your computer systems and software are still able to connect and share information correctly using new and old data.
  • Application portability – the flexibility of an application when used on multiple platforms or when accessed from the internet, desktop or network. You will need to utilise applications and services across various domains, portability allows this.
  • Data integrity and security – Data security is the protection of data against unauthorised corruption. Data integrity is the accuracy of your data. As you know keeping your data safe and accurate is an increasingly critical requirement .
  • Business continuity – is the ability of your business to ensure that business operation and core functions are not severely affected by a disaster or some other unplanned event.

Consulting a professional cloud service provider to help with your migration can help you plan and prepare for the potential challenges of cloud migration.

Use Saicom for business cloud migration

If you are looking to migrate your business to the cloud we can help with the process and to further manage your cloud computing.

Our cloud services are designed to minimise management and operational headaches while helping you improve relationships with your customers. We have the experience to bring you the benefits of cloud migration within the South African context. We will help you throughout the migration process planning for a smooth transition and preparing your business for any potential challenges. We can provide you with Data Management , AnyCloud and Physical hosting.

Let us know if you have any questions about cloud migration and how we can help your business. We can help you improve your business operations today!

Is your cloud strategy enabled the right way?

If not implemented properly, moving to the cloud can become a costly exercise for any business. Success lies in identifying your key objectives and then utilising and harnessing the offering that best suits your operation.

“The first step,” says Joshua Grunewald, Cloud Hosting manager at SAICOM, “is understanding your motivation, where your pain points are, and what you’re trying to achieve as a business.”

A key aspect is the ability to mitigate those risks and plug the gaps in your IT infrastructure. “If these are clearly defined, then moving to the cloud is not that difficult,” he adds. “The next step is choosing the provider that can offer you the services you require at an acceptable cost.

“Once your cloud strategy is set out, SAICOM is ideally situated to have this conversation with you and guide you on how this cloud strategy can be achieved. We assist you in deciding what can and should be moved, so your business operates more efficiently.

“If you understand your IT workloads and what it is you want to shift, you need to then look at each of the cloud’s native applications in determining the overall cost factor.

“For some businesses, it makes sense to utilise a mixture of public and private cloud, and our aim is to advise customers on how they can get the best of both worlds. SAICOM’s private cloud offers customers flexibility in terms of service and support, which is beneficial for businesses that are not keen on moving everything into a public cloud. The aim is assisting customers in putting their workloads in the place where it will be most beneficial and advantageous to them.”

For this reason, SAICOM launched its AnyCloud offering in the latter half of 2020.

“In essence, it’s a hybrid multi-cloud management portal that gives our customers the ability to make use and take advantage of a hybrid cloud strategy, but managing it through a single pane of glass,” Grunewald says. “An added benefit is that it is backed by SAICOM’s service and support, which in the public cloud space can be expensive and somewhat frustrating.”

The response from customers has been incredibly positive, he adds. “Quite a number of our customers are still running all their IT within their environments and on their hardware systems. So AnyCloud has been quite an eye-opener for them. I have seen customers light up when they see the features and functionality, and the control and level of insight they can achieve within their environment, when some of their workloads are in the cloud as opposed to running on their equipment. This is especially true when they realise they still have the same control over their data, but without the headache of owning the underlying infrastructure.”

One of the biggest benefits of clients understanding the cloud is that their IT staff can now concentrate on growing their businesses as opposed to spending time managing servers and hardware.

“And they also realise that if approached with the right strategy and guidance, they can operate more efficiently because they are utilising the cloud environment to suit their specific business needs,” Grunewald concludes.

Q&A

Question: How long did it take to develop AnyCloud?

Answer: It has been a shift for SAICOM as a whole; initially, we were very much a voice connectivity business. I have personally been working on it for a few years within the SAICOM business because we wanted to expand our offerings to the marketplace. Adding cloud services has been quite important for us as we diversify our service offerings and become more relevant for the marketplace. During the development of AnyCloud, our existing customers from a voice and connectivity aspect kept asking us if we also offered cloud services, so creating this product has been a natural progression for the company in our growth.

Question: What are the advantages of using AnyCloud?

Answer: AnyCloud offers a wide variety of features and functionalities that can benefit any customer regardless of their size. Along with monitoring services directly through the portal, several automation features can be built into it. So whether you are a small company or a big enterprise, its features will enable you to meet all your relevant cloud needs through one single pane of glass. You could be a business with as few as 1 or 2 servers, requiring some additional functionality and greater insight but with a small team , a development house utilising automation on a large scale, or even a large enterprise with vast amounts of workloads that require monitoring and logging on an individual basis – it meets all of those needs and more.

Question: Was it coincidental that AnyCloud was launched in 2020?

Answer: We had planned to launch in 2020 and the fact that Covid-19 brought digitalisation with companies moving to the cloud with employees working from home was beneficial for us. The pandemic forced businesses to implement their digital transformation policies and cloud strategies and AnyCloud was in the right place at the right time to meet these requirements.

To read more about AnyCloud, go to: https://saicom.io/solutions/anycloud/

Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Brainstorm magazine

Secure access in COVID times

Ian Shak, Principal Solutions Architect at Saicom

Much has already been written about how COVID-19 lockdowns have changed the workplace location and in so doing, the IT dynamic. In hindsight, many commentators have admitted that worldwide lockdowns accelerated a trend that  was already picking up steam – work from home, work from anywhere, as long as you work!

When we engage with our customers, this “trust-but-monitor” cultural mindset is clearly articulated in the feedback they offer.  Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are telling us that ‘we trust our employees to work from anywhere.  As long as they are productive, we don’t care where they are’ and critically, that ‘we need to monitor our employees – for governance, compliance and productivity reasons of course’.  And as the need for secure remote working has grown, they are telling us that “it’s IT’s job is to make business happen SECURELY.  Just make it happen.  And don’t get hacked”.

From my perspective, the essence of these insights from customers  align  with several of the buzzwords already top of mind for C suite executives (CISOs, CIOs and CTOs):

These technologies/frameworks align perfectly with the introduction of SASE (Secure Access Services Edge) that was first used by Gartner in 2019. Pronounced sassy, this new category of technology solution is currently at the top of the 2020 Gartner hype cycle ‘peak of expectation’ for Cloud security, and is defined as all the above technologies, or at least, some sort of venn between them.

* Source: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/top-actions-from-gartner-hype-cycle-for-cloud-security-2020/

Cloud Native, COVID-19, and True Secure Access Service Edge

* Source: https://www.catonetworks.com/blog/what-the-2020-gartner-hype-cycles-taught-us-about-sase

Wrapped up into a single pane of glass goodness, delivered as a service, seamless security for the user and the administrator, SASE  will ensure perfect secrecy for all your employees – onsite and remote, technical or technophobe, malicious or technologically illiterate.

However, due to the vast expanse of SASE’s intended goals, there is no one-stop-shop.

You might buy a Cloud Access Security Broker  (CASB) solution, with elements of SD-WAN, Secure Web Gateway (SWG) and  Firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) from a vendor that historically provided only one of the elements, and has built; acquired or integrated the other components.

Alternatively you may take a Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) approach to deploying SaaS applications, and a different approach for endpoint security.

One size does not fit all.

Selecting  one of the aforementioned technologies as the centerpiece of a security strategy,  would depend on a combination of  technical goals, appetite for risk, level of maturity and importantly,  budgetary constraints.

For example, if you’re buying an SWG you need to force people browsing through the nearest cloud based proxy. You will  need an identity mechanism, and the tools to implement forward proxies and/or tunnels to get you there.

You then want to get as much out of your SWG spend, by turning up the security dials until the security/convenience trade-off tilts too far. And,  then dial it back to a more usable level of security, while still implementing a level of Data Loss Prevention (DLP).

On the other hand, ZTNA presents more complicated architecture decisions, given that the  goal is to provide direct access to IaaS, PaaS and  SaaS apps, without a VPN perimeter. Identity (and  two factor authentication [2FA]) comes to the fore when thinking about ZTNA, and you will rely heavily on the authentication tools provided by your SaaS vendors.

That said, ZTNA is one of the frameworks that  places heavy emphasis on the end user experience, by ensuring that convenience is top-of-mind – a proven method to ensure that users don’t have to think of creative ways to  bypass security controls.

CASB could be viewed as the middle ground.  The vendor provides cloud on-ramps at multiple locations (POPs – points of presence) to ensure low latency access for ingress and egress traffic. Reverse proxying enters the arsenal of tools.

If you run a business on laptops and SaaS applications only, CASB has the potential to evolve  into your SIEM (Security Information and Event Management). But  what about your endpoints?  You’re probably going to need an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solution, , and the trusty old Firewall, perhaps with a “Next Generation” sticker.

SASE has nothing to do with endpoints, and  is therefore not  the complete solution.

It could therefore be thought of as a framework, composed of a bundle of services, which achieve a percentage of your security goals.

The winners and losers have yet to be determined, and indeed most of the large vendors are jostling for dominance, either through mergers and acquisitions or strategic partnerships. For example, VMWare has established partnerships with Menlo Security and ZScaler, while Cisco leverages its  acquisition of Meraki, Viptella and Umbrella to piece together  secure access to public and private Clouds.

The following peripheral services could also be components of a SASE solution:

  • Remote Browser Isolation (RBI)
  • Web API Protection as a Service (WAAPaaS)
  • Identity Access Management (IAM) – delivered via an IDP
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
  • Advanced Threat Protection (ATP)
  • Quality of Service (QoS)

This acronym soup reminds me of the UTM narrative security vendors pushed in the early to mid  2000’s. They combined WF, AV, AS and AC (Web Filter, Anti Virus, Anti-Spam and Application Control respectively) into a single  box to rule them all, but were ultimately superseded by the Cloud. Of course these vendors are ideally positioned to pivot into SASE.

This series of blog posts will follow this exciting world of evolving security technologies. I’ll explore many of the above concepts in more detail in subsequent posts.

Stay tuned for the trough of disillusionment.

The differences between Business Fibre and Home Fibre in South Africa

When you are considering installing fibre you may find yourself confronted with two options. Your choices will be between business fibre and home fibre.

In this article we are going to cover the key differences between home fibre and business fibre, discussing the various aspects to consider when choosing which fibre to use.

What is Fibre Internet?

Fiber optic Internet is an Internet connection that transfers data fully or partially via fiber optic cables. Fibre, or Fibre Optics, uses the speed of light by transferring data through means of glass cabling. Making it the fastest and most reliable form of internet connectivity available.

Business fibre is known as Fibre to the Business (FTTB), while Home Fibre is known as Fibre to the Home (FTTH). Typically business fibre goes to the premises, whereas home fibre may go to the home or to a nearby node.

Fibre to a nearby node refers to when data services and broadband connections run via a central network box (a node).

Fibre to the premises refers to a fibre optic line that runs directly to your premises from the nearest available fibre node. This results in faster internet speeds.

What is Business Fibre in South Africa?

Business fibre (or Fibre to the Business, FTTB) provides internet at scale that can manage a high demand on the internet line. This type of fibre is more expensive, but is tailored for large numbers of concurrent users with high demands of the internet speed, uptime, and contention ratio.

What is Home Fibre in South Africa?

Home Fibre (or Fibre to the Home, FTTH) is for homes, which have less demanding internet requirements. Home fibre is more cost effective and all that is needed is a basic setup, however this type of fibre internet is usually subject to more downtime, more contention, and lower line speeds.

Fibre Contention Ratio

Contention is when various people are all connected and competing for the internet on one line. This leads to a contention ratio which is the number of users relative to the number of intended users. The ideal contention ratio would be 1:1, the lower the contention ratio the better.

For example, in an office environment with more than 100 employees everyone needs to have fast internet at all times without one user slowing down the others.

Business fibre solves this by providing a line that is able to handle hundreds of devices at a time. Say for example your company has 70 employees, it is safe to assume that all of them will have their computer connected to the internet and most of them will also connect their phones. That would result in around 140 devices in total being used. That is 140 devices in contention for line speeds. For that you need a specialist fibre line designed with sufficient capacity to handle a high load.

Home fibre on the other hand would be set up for an average of 5 people in a home structure. If that line had 10 people using the internet, line speed would be slower for each device in use with little option to improve the contention ratio.

Internet Uptime

Uptime is the percentage of time that you have broadband service availability in a month. In contrast, downtime is the time when a network is unavailable.

A network’s uptime is usually measured by calculating the ratio of uptime to downtime within a year, then expressing that ratio as a percentage. Network availability of 99.999% has been the industry gold standard for a few years now. That percentage translates to roughly 5.26 minutes of unplanned downtime a year!

Most businesses will feel the impact of even a fraction of downtime and as a business you need as close to 100% uptime as possible. Business fibre has higher line capabilities and is designed and installed to provide the best possible uptime. Furthermore, choosing the right Business Fibre ISP can help you minimise the cost of unplanned downtime.

Home fibre typically has more downtime as the needs for fibre at home are a lot lower. The bandwidth of home fibre is also often shared with other homes, whereas business fibre is not shared. Meaning that business fibre lines are less likely to get overcrowded.

Home fibre providers also have less of a focus on ensuring 100% uptime against business fibre providers who have this as a high priority.

Fibre Service

High speed business fibre symbolised on street

Home Fibre is a best effort network. This means that the provider does not give any guarantees on when data will be delivered or the quality of that data once delivered.

You can use the post office as an analogy. A sender is typically unsure whether their package was delivered to its destination. What the sender can do though is pay an extra fee for delivery confirmation. That would need the delivery service to get a signature from the recipient and return that to the sender.

Best effort can be more efficient for some purposes. For example, for real-time audio or video transfers. In these instances the loss of a small percentage of packets is sometimes acceptable. That means it would not noticeably affect the sound or image quality. Recovering lost packets can create excessive overheads that reduce performance. That will typically be left out in a best effort network.

Every user in a best effort network is given a best effort service. This means that they have an unspecified bit rate and delivery time which fluctuates based on how many users are on the network at any particular time. So, if you have two people using the network at the same time, internet speeds will be good but if you have 50 people using it at the same time the internet will be incredibly slow.

If you run a business you probably rely on heavy data transfers for everyday operations. With your business depending on the internet (as most do nowadays), you need reliability.

Business fibre provides you with a dedicated internet service. On a dedicated line you will receive internet service that is committed to you alone. Meaning that data is drawn directly between you and your ISP (Internet service provider). For example if you have a 1 Gbps dedicated line, you are receiving 1 Gbps at every point no matter what your neighbouring office’s traffic looks like. This is one of the key advantages of business fibre.

Mean time to respond and repair your internet connection

Business fibre takes a lot longer to install than home fibre as a special fibre line just for your business needs to be installed. Once installed, however, most business fibre providers will have guarantees on speedy repair times. Business fibre typically takes 2-4 months to have installed from first contact with a service provider. During this period an interim internet solution can be implemented.

Home fibre on the other hand takes 2 – 5 weeks to have it fully installed from first contact and there are less guarantees on repair time.

Fibre Service level agreement (SLA)

A huge benefit of business fibre (over home fibre) is that it comes with a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This provides certain guarantees for customers, which holds the ISP accountable for providing an agreed level of service.

This means that you are guaranteed a certain percentage of uptime. You are guaranteed a certain level of service and a certain response and repair time. Due to service level agreements business fibre fixes are prioritised over home fibre users.

Length of contract

Since Business Fibre requires a much higher installation cost, an SLA for FTTB is usually a 24-36 month agreement between both parties.

Home fibre on the other hand is typically taken on a month-to-month agreement occasionally with a minimum initial commitment and very lenient cancellation terms.

Fibre Price difference

Naturally, Business fibre is priced significantly higher than home fibre because of the differences mentioned above. High quality business fibre is, however, worth the price.

Within the pricing range, package specific pricing is dependent on line speed, and the various bells and whistles provided by the ISP. A few things to think about when looking into business fibre are: Service and support, is it uncapped and uncontended, and what are the terms and conditions.

Should you use business fibre or home fibre?

Business fibre in use in an office

Ultimately, the main difference between business fibre and home fibre are the improved capabilities that business fibre provides.

The question then becomes should you use business fibre or home fibre?

That depends on your needs. If you are a household then home fibre will provide you with everything you need. If you are a business owner, the size of your business and your internet needs should be the deciding factor as to which fibre option to use.

If you are a small business with less than 10 employees and very limited internet requirements, then home fibre is still a serious option but if you are a larger business with 20 employees and up, you should consider using business fibre.

The Interconnect Rate and its Importance in South Africa’s Telecommunications Market

Over the past 20 years, making calls in South Africa has changed considerably as we progressed from legacy analogue technology into the digital age using Voice over IP.  At the same time, the regulatory landscape has undergone a number of changes to ensure that legislation keeps up with technology’s pace of change One of the biggest factors for regulating the market and how operators price calls,  has been the evolution of the interconnect rate. 

The interconnect rate or the tariff one operator charges another to terminate a call on its network, affects all parts of the telecoms industry – mobile and fixed-line operators, corporate businesses and the everyday consumer.

The history of the interconnect rate

The history of the interconnect rate has not only shaped the telecoms industry as we know it today but affected the South African economy as a whole. In 2010, the mobile interconnect rate was R1.25 and today it’s sitting at R0.09c

In 2010, the interconnect rate was so inflated, that it was extremely expensive to call any of the mobile networks. Because of this, Least Cost Routing (LCR) existed, which connected business telephones to sim card devices that allowed you to make calls to mobile networks at substantially reduced rates. 

By using LCR, businesses could avoid the interconnect rate and make on-net calls (MTN to MTN or Vodacom to Vodacom).  The result was a vastly cheaper per minute rate. However, as the interconnect rate started to drop, so LCR was no longer needed.  

VoIP soon followed where you could use data links like ADSL, Diginet and later fibre to send calls over direct interconnects. This created a gap in the market for smaller Value Added Network Service Providers to enter the market and provide telecom solutions at far better rates than the larger incumbents.

Through a combination of the reduction in the interconnect rate, a growing variety of VoIP services and better connectivity solutions, VoIP has now become the favoured method of carrying calls across corporate South Africa.

The table below shows how the interconnect rate has changed over the last few years:

Start Date End Date Mobile Fixed Regulated Fixed Asymmetry
Regulated Asymmetry Local National Local National
01-Mar-12 28-Feb-13 0.40 0.44 0.19 0.12 0.13 0.21
01-Mar-14 30-Sep-14 0.20 0.44 0.12 0.16 0.13 0.21
01-Oct-14 30-Sep-15 0.20 0.31 0.12 0.15 0.18 0.21
01-Oct-15 30-Sep-16 0.16 0.24 0.11 0.12 0.15 0.16
01-Oct-16 30-Sep-17 0.13 0.19 0.10 0.10 0.12 0.12
01-Oct-17 30-Sep-18 0.13 0.19 0.10 0.10 0.12 0.12
01-Oct-18 30-Sep-19 0.12 0.18 0.09 0.09 0.10 0.10
01-Oct-19 30-Sep-20 0.10 0.16 0.07 0.07 0.08 0.08
01-Oct-20 30-Sep-21 0.09 0.13 0.06 0.06 0.06 0.06
Interconnect Rate South Africa
The voice interconnect rate in South Africa since 2012

How does the interconnect rate impact the telecoms industry in South Africa?

The interconnect rate, which is regulated  by ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), has been lowered over the years to:

  • Lower telecommunication costs.
  • Allow more providers to enter the market and stimulate healthy competition which leads to reduced costs and improved offerings.
  • Ensure transparency in providers to help consumers make better choices for their usage.

Impact on the everyday consumer

Despite all this, South African consumers are still charged far too much to make a call. Despite the interconnect rate consistently dropping over many years, these savings have not been passed on to the consumer.   According to the glide path issued by ICASA, the interconnect rate is anticipated to be reduced to 9c in October 2020 and as this downward trend continues, the pressure on mobile networks to reduce call rates needs to be heightened. In addition, the increase in application calling through platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom and Google Hangouts should further entice the networks to cut costs so they can enhance their share of both the data and voice pie 

 As costs start to reduce, the resulting transparency in the market will allow consumers to compare their packages, change service providers and make educated decisions to get the best deal possible.

Impact on corporate businesses

Whilst the benefits of reducing interconnect costs have not found their way to the consumer yet, corporate South Africa has yielded large cost reductions in their telephony spend since the advent of the interconnect rate benefits. As these rates continue to fall, and the popularity of VoIP and cloud telephony solutions continue to rise, the large telco incumbents corporate market share is being challenged even further. With providers competing in price and service delivery, businesses throughout the country have also been able to benefit from cheaper prices and more choice. As a result, the B2B market is highly competitive. However, even though there is now an abundance of choice in the market, many smaller providers still struggle to compete, on price alone as the mature networks have the upper hand due to their scale and time in the market, meaning their prices are often cheaper. Smaller providers have to look at their service levels and operational efficiencies to separate themselves from their competition.

What lies ahead?

It’s obvious that the reduction in the interconnect rate has meant that telecommunication costs have come down, competition has increased and consumers have benefited through better transparency and choice across providers. 

The current landscape shows that prices for both consumers and corporates will continue to drop, the interconnect rate will continue to decrease and mature networks are most likely going to hold onto their market share thanks to their established time in the market.

However, what is not yet clear is whether the consumer will derive the full benefit of the reduction in the future, whether healthy competition will continue to grow, and lastly, whether this changing market will contribute substantially to South Africa’s major need for GDP growth.

Post written by Kyle Woolf
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – Saicom Voice Services

Saicom Update – COVID19 (26 March 2020)

Dear Customers and Partners,

As a cloud-first technology provider, helping our customers and partners take advantage of technology and all its benefits, is core to who we are.

Yet today we find ourselves confronting a situation never before experienced in our lifetime. As the COVID19 pandemic has continued to infiltrate our lives we have been forced to change routines and habits at their most basic levels. Simple pleasures we once took for granted, like meeting friends for a coffee, have suddenly been taken away from us overnight.

As we enter a lockdown period in South Africa from tonight at 23h59, we will face unchartered territory both from a business perspective but more importantly as a community of South Africans.

Our Service during Lockdown

As an organisation involved in the Telecommunications Industry and in terms of the Presidential guidelines, Saicom has been included in the list of exempt businesses allowed to trade and provide Telecommunications services during the lockdown period.

To this end, we would like to inform all Customers and Partners that we remain open and fully operational and will continue to provide essential telecommunication services to those businesses that need it.

Whilst most of our Staff are working from home to limit our employees’ exposure and conform as much a possible to the conditions of the lockdown both our Support and Installs teams are ready to take your call or provision services as you may require them.

How can we help you?

Since Presidents Rhamaposa’s address to the nation on Monday night, many businesses have been asking similar questions- How do we remain efficient and productive during this period? How do we enable our teams to work remotely so that they along with their families can remain safe during this trying time?

As a specialist ISP and Telecommunication provider we are ready to enable this environment for you. Whether it is Mobile Data that your staff need so they can access the Internet from home or enabling calls through their work extension to take advantage of PBX systems already in place we are a phone call away to making this a reality for you.

Stay Safe

We would like to wish all our Customer and Partners well over this challenging time. Let us all heed the advice we have been given and abide by the regulations that President Rhamaposa has put in place. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to help South Africa return to where we belong as a business community and as a people.

Stay safe and call us. We are waiting to help you.

The Saicom Team

Expansion without sacrifice: Kyle Woolf

Published – CEO Magazine (26 September 2019)

Culture is the most important part of any business, says Saicom CEO Kyle Woolf.

Kyle Woolf Saicom CEO

“Often, as a management team, we hire for our individual weaknesses, as opposed to complementing our strengths. So, areas where we’re actually deficient, we will hire for. That has been critical to our success.”

Saicom is a South African telecommunications service provider that exclusively uses cloud-based services and focuses on telephony systems for small businesses, corporate clients, VoIP operators and resellers across the country.

Over the past few years, it has grown organically, with an eye to potential acquisitions both locally and offshore. But the most important element of that growth is expansion without sacrificing the Saicom culture. “That’s my leadership style,” Kyle explains.

“It’s people-centric and it’s output-focused. I don’t care where you are, I don’t care what you’re doing – as long as the output is there. If the output isn’t there, then it’s about making sure that you at least have the tools at your disposal to enable you to do your job to the best of your ability.”

“I don’t care where you are, I don’t care what you’re doing – as long as the output is there.”

Kyle came to the communications industry from an unusual perspective. Trained as a chartered accountant, and with most of his prior experience coming from the banking sector, he admits that taking over the reins at Saicom was “a major baptism of fire”.

Originally, he came aboard to shadow one of the original founders, who was stepping away from day-to-day operations, and take over as Financial Director across three companies within a larger group.

Three years later, and with only those three years’ worth of experience in the industry, Kyle took over as CEO of Saicom Voice Services. It was a challenge that suited this son of an entrepreneur. “A theme in my life and I suppose how I manage people within our organisation, is if you have the right attitude, you can learn anything,” he says. “Attitude can’t be taught, but skills can be.”

That non-traditional path to the top has served Kyle well in the big chair, where he takes a less-structured view of how the organisation is functioning than someone who has climbed a more straightforward career ladder. “Most people have specific jobs and are siloed in those jobs,” he explains.

“They have quite a narrow, specialised focus in terms of what they do every single day. But I think being in management and running a business gives you a much broader view of what’s going on.

“I think that’s actually the most gratifying part of running a business. It’s really being able to sit back and say, ‘Wow, I had a small part to play in that.’”

 

Kyle Woolf Saicom CEO

 

The telecommunications industry has always been driven by technical innovation, but for Kyle, the most interesting aspect is the human one. “The challenge of people and understanding what makes them tick is the most enjoyable,” he says.

“When you create a culture that allows people to grow and display excellence in their chosen job, that gives me a huge amount of satisfaction. And being able to add value at a strategic level – I don’t think many people get the opportunity to look at a business from this vantage point.”

Hiring the right people is the first step, of course, but that strategy only works if you are also fostering a company culture that allows them to do their jobs in their own way, without the fear of being punished for exploring less-trammelled paths.

And Saicom does just that. “Just as a general concept of not being scared to try even if you fail,” Kyle says. “You can’t be innovative if you’re scared to fail. You have to be allowed to fail. The culture we created within our business is one where our engineers have the room to play. To break. To fix. To learn. And that is ultimately where the innovation happens.

“You can’t say, ‘Okay, cool, on Monday from two to three we’re going to do an innovation workshop.’ Innovation is something that potentially happens at 12 o’clock at night when no-one’s around. So if you can give people the platform to innovate and make mistakes, without getting fired or given warnings and having a really bad consequence to their failing, then that change is something people can adapt to quite quickly.”

“If you can give people the platform to innovate and to make mistakes, without getting fired or having a bad consequence, then that change is something people adapt to quite quickly.”

That mindset is invaluable in a sector that is constantly looking into new and innovative practices, such as SD-WAN (Software-Defined networking in a Wide Area Network), which is adding massive value in application management and network control, and is now being offered to customers at both the click of a button and in real time.

Another major development in the telecommunications industry in recent times is the concept of omnichannel. “We’re voice and connectivity experts – that’s really our game,” Kyle explains. “One of the big changes we’re starting to see now – omnichannel – is where people, when they’re talking to a customer, want to understand that customer end to end.

“People have Twitter accounts, they have Facebook accounts, they have Instagram accounts, they have email, they have instant messaging, WhatsApp, all that type of stuff. They want to bring everything together into a centralised platform.”

Continuing on the topic of the future of the telecommunications industry, Kyle has a lot of thoughts about how the space will be shaped, and reshaped, by some nascent technologies – though he won’t be drawn on specific blue-sky predictions. “I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s going to look like in five years’ time, let alone 20 years’ time,” he says.

“From our perspective, we haven’t really dabbled in the IoT space yet, for example. I think the key in that space is trying to understand what type of niche you really want to play in. There’s so much noise around it – let’s get rid of the noise, understand what the value proposition is and make sure that the application you choose can be used and accessed by the masses, as opposed to something that is almost too niche.

“AI is also interesting, in terms of how it’s going to replace ordinary tasks and jobs. We all know the stat that 60% of jobs today will not exist within the next 20 to 30 years.

“That’s a scary thought but artificial intelligence will have a huge role to play in taking those menial tasks and creating efficiencies for both service providers and customers alike. As a technology provider, we hope to be at the forefront of that technological wave.”

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SD-WAN in the SASE world

Coined by Gartner last year, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is a term that combines network security functions with wide area network (WAN) capabilities to support the dynamic secure access needs of organisations. But why is it important when many decision-makers are still coming to grips with software-defined networking (SD-WAN) and edge security services?

To understand the impact of SASE one must first get a top-level view of the state of the networking market. On the one side, there has been an influx of focused SD-WAN vendors who have been adding security as part of their offering. On the other, there are the incumbent security vendors who have decided to introduce SD-WAN functionality to their product stack.

The latter see it as a feature while the former understand its complexities given the cloud-based nature of their approach. In an SD-WAN environment, applications must be streamlined across the network and have security integrated (either natively or through service chaining ). The challenge with the most incumbents is that they want to deliver all security aspects through their own brand irrespective of whether that is best suited to the platform, application, or device.

Most SD-WAN vendors are all about choice. They give customers the freedom to service chain their own security solutions into the mix, giving them the best of both worlds. SASE is an evolution of this approach as it gives the SD-WAN vendors the ability to choose which security vendors they partner with. In fact, the SD-WAN discussions of today will make way for SASE discussions in the future. As more data moves into the cloud and edge computing grows, attention will increasingly turn to network optimisation and security throughout the data journey.

And it is in this space where SASE can play an important role.

A new dynamic

Given the nature of their business, security vendors will also focus on security often to the detriment of the SD-WAN. Understanding how an application functions over the network will be a precursor to deploying the right security functionality for the organisation.

Cynics argue the SASE classification gives those incumbent security vendors more license to ‘bully’ their way into network discussions. However, the choice aspect of security must never be forgotten. Already, SD-WAN vendors are introducing more built-in functionality into their offerings in order to combat this security-led tactic by the security vendors. Expectations are that there will be consolidation between security and SD-WAN vendors with mergers and acquisitions becoming par for the course.

But there is still significant education required to happen in the market around SASE. It is easier for larger corporates with more resources to embrace. For mid-market companies and SMEs, a term like SASE just adds to their confusion. For them, it is not about having to worry about the bits and bytes of security, SD-WAN, or SASE. They just want their networks to work, be secure, and effectively transfer and manage data.

Partner approach

This means that finding a trusted partner who understands the business roadmap and is willing to work with the customer to evolve their network and security requirements is fundamental to getting SASE done right.

It is not good enough to look at current needs, but also remain cognisant of how the network of the company will evolve in the future. Working with a partner that goes beyond a traditional single vendor option helps to give the business a variety of choices better suited to requirements. Sure, ticking boxes might be fine for the short-term, but organisations can look to trusted partners, to help them find ways, and deploy solutions that secure their technology investments for the future.

Ensuring the success of SASE in the future requires an intimate understanding of what is currently working on the network, how it is secured, and how it will have to evolve as the digital market continues changing.

Greg de Chasteneuf, CTO at Saicom

CellC halts non-geographic number porting in South Africa

In 2018, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) took steps to enable the porting of non-geographic (i.e. 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087). But it did not take long for embattled operator Cell C to launch an application in the High Court to stop this from happening.

And while this is pending and there is no urgency from the mobile operator to move the application along, the country is dealt a series of significant blows, not only in terms of opening the market for fair and competitive behaviour, but also network outages that impact call centres nationally.

Despite VoIP service providers being given non-geographic numbers by ICASA, the bulk on inbound call revenue still sits with Telkom – even when it cannot remain relevant in a digitally driven world.  And Cell C’s application has halted any progress on opening the competitive playing field.

More importantly, customers that have non-geographic numbers core to their day-to-day business will continue to feel the impact of large scale Telkom network outages like the one we have seen recently. Telkom still has a monopoly on most non-geographic numbers and businesses are left with no choice.

It is ludicrous that companies are still unable to port these numbers and work with service providers who are committed to driving an always-on call centre capability.

The reality is that Cell C’s application is a result of the company not agreeing with elements of the regulation. For example, the proposed regulation calls for an additional validation step and given how Cell C wants to be able to port as many people as quickly as possible, this could complicate the process and impact on migration numbers. Furthermore, if a number is not ported within a specified amount of time, it reverts to the original provider. Reading between the lines, this could indicate that Cell C is not efficient enough in porting customers and stands to lose more business.

So, while Cell C is trying to fight for its best interests, the entire non-geographic porting process has ground to a halt, setting the country back years. By implication, Cell C is assisting Telkom maintain its anti-competitive behaviour and helping feed the last remaining cash cow it has in place from a voice business perspective.

For us, it is about creating an environment where customers can benefit from reduced prices and better service.  And service providers can start introducing more innovation to a market that is still stuck in the Dark Ages in many respects.

Cell C, it is time to set a date.  Make your case and move our telecommunications industry forward and give companies the choice when it comes to service providers.

Greg de Chasteauneuf, CTO at Saicom

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