Open source telephony slashes costs

By   |  January 26, 2005

A new South African company, OpenVOICE, has launched into the local market with a range of low-cost telephony products, including voice over IP solutions. The reason for the low cost? Because they have turfed out the proprietary software they were developing and adopted the freely available open source Asterisk software.

Clayton Hayward, executive director at OpenVOICE, says the decision to adopt the Asterisk platform was not hard. He said he and his partners attended the recent Asterisk conference in the US and returned convinced that it was the way of the future. So much so that they formed a new company to roll out Asterisk solutions.

Asterisk is an open source telecommunications platform, designed to allow different types of IP telephony hardware, middleware and software to interface with each other consistently, while maintaining quality of service. Asterisk has become the de facto standard for voice switching and PBX functions within the open source environment.

Hayward says the flexibility of the platform, which runs on a Linux server, means the company is able to cater for both high-volume call centres and businesses as well as small businesses and even home users.

\”The hard part,\” says Hayward, \” is explaining to clients that what normally costs a fortune can now be done for a fraction of the price. Particularly those clients that we have quoted in the past and now we have to tell them the new cost.\”

The advantage of using an open source solution, he says, is that it eliminates the per-port and per-feature charges that are normally associated with telephony deployments. \”Open source makes you honest,\” he says. \”With Asterisk we can\’t just charge enormous licence fees that we can fall back on. Now we charge forour skills only.\”

The cost of an Asterisk-based system, Hayward says, is significantly cheaper than the proprietary solutions usually used. As much as ten times cheaper in many cases. \”A system which might have cost R300 000 in the past can now cost as little as R30 000,\” he says by way of example.

And scalability? Hayward says they are already deploying Asterisk in a range of environments. Currently one call centre they are the process of deploying in the Western Cape is destined to be a 1000-seat environment. Already they have deployed more than a third of that. \”When you need more capacity you simply put in another server,\” says Hayward.

The most obvious market demand right now, on the eve of telecommunications de-regulation in South Africa, is for voice over IP(VoIP) solutions. \”Everybody is jockeying for position now before the changes in February,\” says Hayward. But the one thing he is sure of is that VoIP will be the next big market.

\”VoIP is poised to join the World Wide Web and email as the third ubiquitous and critical Internet application to date and the next decade will prove this. The world is in the process of moving from analogue to digital technologies. Voice is just the latest service to make the move. By the start of the next decade, analogue telephony will have become a rarity in the developed world. This will drive enormous change. Pricing structures will be altered and capabilities will be expanded beyond what we can imagine today,\” adds Hayward.

Hayward says that although Asterisk is an open source platform and freely available to anyone to download, he isn\’t concerned that businesses will simply do the implementation themselves. \”Asterisk is so simple to use that even someone with no experience can install it. But when it comes to high-volume installations users will need a high level of experience to deploy it correctly. And just because the source code is available doesn\’t mean everyone will understand it. It takes experience.\”

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