January 28, 2016
Africa's Fight over VoIP

Across the vast continent of Africa, individuals and businesses alike are embracing technology at a rapid pace. From communication technologies and transportation improvements – to better ways to grow and harvest food items, Africa as a whole has become more technologically sound and more efficient as of late. One industry in Africa that has grown exponentially over the past decade is the communication and telecom field. But recently, several African nations have enacted restrictions and limitations on one of the most efficient communication protocols in existence – VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol. The battle over VoIP in Africa is real, and it has created some intriguing effects that have reshaped the way Africans communicate today.

What is VoIP? Simply put, VoIP is a communication method that uses an Internet connection to place calls. Instead of using the traditional and antiquated network of physical phone lines to enable voice calls, VoIP uses the extreme reaches of the Internet and our network of computers and handheld devices to permit low-cost calling – virtually anywhere in the world. While this sounds incredible, there are some who feel that VoIP companies will eventually put traditional telecoms out of business, and that has led to some extreme responses from some municipalities across Africa.

Restrain progress, retain profits

The fundamental concern with VoIP across Africa is that it is actively and rapidly eroding the profitability models of existing telecom operators. These companies, instead of embracing the future, are compelled to work in tandem with regulators to restrict and interrupt VoIP service across much of Africa. What does this mean for Africans looking to make affordable calls? It corrals these end users into contractual arrangements with existing telecom companies – thereby increasing personal costs and minimizing the progression of technology across the continent.

By disrupting service to those who need it most, these telecom operators are alienating the group who can potentially be their biggest new client. In Senegal, for instance, more than 50% of residents have a smartphone. This figure is astonishing when you consider just how poor the average Senegalese individual is, and, how just ten years ago, a smartphone would have been considered a pipe dream to many residents. Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber are three platforms that many Africans use, and African governmental agencies have tried to block these services. They failed. The voice of the public was heard, and access to these important communication tools has bettered the average African immensely.

Several large international telecom operators have recently conspired to block access to VoIP services, and instead create profitable packages that can be sold to the average consumer. This profit seeking behavior is understandable in business, but the importance of a reliable and robust VoIP network is undeniable – especially in developing areas across the continent of Africa. For Africans who are seeing firsthand the benefits of technological and social progress around the world, enabling clear communication opportunities has never been more important. VoIP is the future for communication, and creating a hospitable environment for VoIP providers is crucial to the continued development of the continent of Africa.