In the Western world, we tend to take communication for granted. Individuals and businesses benefit from low call charges, nearly 100% mobile coverage and telephone access so common that it can be regarded as guaranteed.
These communication channels give businesses in the developed world significant advantages, being able to communicate with clients and make sales locally and globally. Firms can sell products and services to many businesses in developing and emerging economies who simply lack local options.
This lack of local options stems from economies which are stifled by limited communication platforms. This can be because of government or corporate monopolies, lack of infrastructure, or simply cost, but the outcome is the same: poor communication severely limiting the ability of local businesses to thrive.
The coming of age of VoIP, then, represents an unparalleled opportunity for these emerging markets. But what are the benefits of VoIP in the developing world, in comparison with traditional telephone systems and what roadblocks exist which prevent widespread adoption of VoIP?
Benefits of VoIP in the Developing World
As with widespread adoption in the Western world, the primary driver of VoIP in the developing world is the substantial cost reduction it can deliver.
Currently, the telecommunications infrastructure across the developing world and, indeed, in larger countries in the developed world, can be limiting. In the developing world, this can mean that carriage charges on the public telephone networks are prohibitive, even for local calls. Once you factor in the relatively low wages and poor buying power of local currencies, it is easy to see how international calls can be out of reach for so many.
VoIP changes this, however. Even in the developing world, the cost of data on IP networks is trivial, meaning that the majority of IP to IP calls can be made for next to nothing, even for free by many carriers. This contributes in no small part to the widespread success of services such as Skype, offering multi-platform IP calling at no charge. Even international call costs can be mitigated to a significant degree through the use of IP networks instead of telephone infrastructure.
While infrastructure is an issue across the developing world, improving wireless standards and innovative VoIP protocols are overcoming this. The widespread adoption of 3G and 4G wireless data networks in mature markets is contributing to the viability of mobile IP calling and video conferencing, but even 2G wireless networks provide sufficient bandwidth to support basic voice services.
Smaller community broadband projects over non-standard mediums such as microwave transmission can also open up substantial communications channels for remote communities. In addition, the adoption of IP phones instead of ‘traditional’ telephones can minimise the infrastructure required for full connectivity.
Lastly, novel voice protocols developed by entrepreneurs focusing on developing economies have reduced the bandwidth required for acceptable quality voice to the point where even dial-up connections can provide reasonable quality IP calling. This allows even the most out-of-date telephone infrastructure to support IP telephony.
Roadblocks to VoIP Adoption
As you may have guessed, the primary roadblock to VoIP adoption in the developing world is simply infrastructure.
Even in larger developed Western nations, such as Canada, rural communities can struggle with communications, with only the most basic services being available. In developing nations and emerging economies, this issue is of still greater significance. While infrastructure may exist within the largest built-up areas, in many locations outside of them, it is simply absent.
While infrastructure issues can be overcome through community projects or external investment, other roadblocks exist which cannot. These include regulatory issues and the protection of existing companies.
As VoIP has matured, it has reduced the profits of telecommunication providers in developing countries. One obvious example is India where estimates indicate that telephone providers have lost USD $1.5 billion of international carriage charges as a result of IP calling. In many areas where large corporations wield substantial influence or are even government-owned, there can be substantial resistance to this level of disruption The result is that IP phone services are aggressively regulated, or even banned in some jurisdictions.
None of the existing roadblocks are insurmountable. Indeed, facsimiles of them existed across the Western world, whether relating to IP telephony or other innovative disruptive technologies. Industries and government resist disruptive change until it becomes obvious that the change is, put simply, the future.
The developed world has long since passed that point with IP telephony. BT, the largest telephone provider in the UK, will end support of it’s PSTN infrastructure in 2025 and most providers are offering home and business IP phone options. Even infrastructure issues are fading, with national commitments to deliver superfast broadband even to the most remote communities.
Developing economies are growing incredibly rapidly and instead of following the same path as developed economies, they are skipping straight to the deployment of modern technologies. Over the next decade, IP telephony will be opening up the developing world like nothing before.