" ITREALMS: VoIP, crashing the call tariffs

Thursday, March 09, 2006

VoIP, crashing the call tariffs

features of the week:

With the coming on board of Unified Licensing Regime, operators stand the chance of crashing call tariffs through Voice over Internet Protocol offering, writes REMMY NWEKE.

Dare need ...
A student, Ms Atim Ekanem was recently in dare need to put a call through to her guardian, who resides in Texas, United States, from her base in Calabar, Cross River State.
She went to town in search of where to make her call at a cheaper rate. On the way she saw a cyber café cum call center’s sign-post inviting potential customers to come in for their international calls at what the owners considered as ‘low rate’.
Ms Ekanem simply asked the ‘Alalok man’ - commercial motorcyclist, conveying her to the city center to stop, and on inquiry, she was told that a minute call to her choice destination would cost N150 per minute.
Walking down the street, she saw another café and decided to find out their rate, which was N130.
As a cash-strapped student, she went down further with the belief she would get a better deal only to behold another café sign offering international calls for just N20 per minute.
She quickly went in to reconfirm the rate displayed outside. This much was reaffirmed to her surprise and she went on to place the call as she was ushered to a seat in a cubicle with a Personal Computer before her where she was requested to wear the headphone.

VoIP experience
Few minutes later, her international number telephone buzzed through the headset and in the next minutes that followed, Ms Ekanem was speaking to her guardian, very clearly. This gave her relaxed mind to say all she wanted for the moment.
Spending three minutes, she paid N60, which farther confirmed the operator actually charged N20 per minute. Ms Ekanem made bold to ask the attendant what they call the system she just used, and got “Internet call” for an answer, and that is also known as “VoIP” which means Voice over Internet Protocol.
VoIP equally known as Internet Voice or IP-enabled service, is a technology that allows users to make telephone calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular or analog phone line, according to the Federal Communications Commission, (FCC).
It also notes that some services using VoIP may only allow users to call other people using the same service, but others may allow call to anyone who has a telephone number - including local, long distance, mobile, and international numbers, globally.
Whereas some services only work over the user’s computer or a special VoIP phone, depending on other services available to user, just as some allow the use of the traditional phone through an adaptor.

VoIP defined
Technically, VoIP permits users access to make telephone calls using a computer network, over a data network like the Internet. VoIP in other words converts the voice signal from the user’s telephone into a digital signal that literally travels over the Net, then converts it back at the destination point so as to enable the call originator and receiver speak and hear one another with a regular phone number.
The United Kingdom (UK)-based regulator, Office of Communications (OFCOM) gave its own version of VoIP as “a generic term which refers to a technical standard that enables the transmission of voice traffic in whole or in part, over one or more networks, which uses the Internet Protocol (IP).”
OFCOM also stated that VoIP traffic could be passed on either by privately managed network or public Internet, even as both could be combined. VoIP technology thus supports a wide range of applications from traditional telephone services to other interactive offering.

Placing Call on VoIP
When placing a VoIP call as said by FCC and using a phone with an adapter, users would first ensure that there is a dialing tone emanating from the phone device and simply dial just as they always have. VoIP also allows users to make a call directly from a computer using a conventional telephone box or a microphone.
Although this service depends largely on the service provider, one way to place a VoIP call is to pick up your phone and dial the number, using an adaptor that connects to existing high-speed Internet connection.
The call goes through a local telephone company otherwise known as service provider in this case, to a VoIP service provider. The phone call goes over the Internet to the called receiver’s local telephone company for the completion of the call. Another means is to utilize a microphone headset plugged into your computer. The number is placed using the keyboard and is routed through a cable modem. Using microphone nowadays seems fashionable, hence most people prefer using it and costs about N1,500 to get.

Required apparatus
In making Internet call, there are required apparatus to facilitate the operation. Basic of this is a broadband; high speed Internet connection and seen as ultimate. It could come as a cable modem, or high-speed services derived from a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or a Local Area Network (LAN).
This could further be accomplished by way of hooking an inexpensive head gear microphone to a Personal Computer (PC) and send or place voice calls through a cable modem or connect a phone directly to a telephone adaptor.

What to know
Noteworthy is that VoIP offering varies from one provider to another. In certain cases, some VoIP providers give their services for free, yet some providers, at times, permit users to select an area code different from the area in which they live. Thus availing them the opportunity of not incurring long distance charges if calling a number within their area code.
It also follows that some people who make Internet call or being called may attract charges especially if it is long distance from their area code and service. This is because some providers charge for long distance calls outside user’s immediate environment. While other VoIP providers permit customers to place call anywhere at a flat rate for a given fixed number of minutes.
Consequently, consumers may even utilize the service to speak with more than one person at a time, which is known as conference call. The person called does not need any special equipment, but simply a phone, even as users could use their PCs while still placing call.

Regulating the VoIP remains a great debate in most countries of the world and Nigeria is not an exception as some Private Telecom Operators (PTOs) cried out that it is taking business from them as well as the national carrier, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).
Immediate past chief executive of NITEL, Mr. Rein Zwolsman, had in 2004 raised alarm at a meeting with the media, that an estimated 90 per cent of international calls in the country were in the grey market.
For the nation’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which seems to have adopted positive attitude to seeming controversy over VoIP, as its Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, recently made it clear, that any organization seeking to offer this service definitely would require appropriate licensing, noting that those proposing VoIP call service would need to interconnect with the national carrier, NITEL or the Second National Operator (SNO), Globacom.

Creating a new chapter
Most countries like the United States through the FCC and Nigeria via NCC, have worked toward creating new chapter of environment that promotes competition and innovation to benefit consumers.
Historically, the Internet is still unregulated or the services provided over it and this has been the case in most countries which was top on the agenda of the second World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunisia, last November.
However, West Africa is touted as large grey VoIP market and with the coming on board of Unified Licensing Regime (ULR) in the Nigerian telecommunications scene, the issue of regulating this module is seen as becoming clearer.
For a telecom expert and chief executive of Telecom Answers Associates, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu, ULR for instance, would facilitate improved access especially by ISP’s who are expected to work together, mostly in the area of service offering.
Pointing out that this could be a step to reposition the nation’s ISPs, who hitherto were facing acute competition with Internet telephony and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies as bundled by some PTOs.
“It may well be the regulator’s initial step to a novel initiative of using Internet telephony, VoIP, as a universal access enabler,” he said.
Experts on the other hand, are of the opinion that VoIP is the next step of competition for telco, moreso as Nigeria commences a new lease in its telecommunication sector with the Unified Licensing.However, usage or mass acceptance of VoIP depends largely on the user-friendly kind of service offering available to the populace.

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