Experts brainstorm on Internet telephone services

GuardianAugust 26, 2006*Experts brainstorm on Internet telephone services**By Sonny Aragba-Akpore**I*N its avowed move to bridge the much talked about digital divide and meetthe United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, the Nigerian
Communications Commission (NCC) said it has removed restrictions from Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP) or Internet telephone.Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Dr.
Ernest Ndukwe dropped the hint in Lagos at the opening ceremony of VoIPAfrican forum.VoIP will crash telephone tariffs and create more and affordable access formany people, Ndukwe who was represented by West Africa Telecoms Regulatory
Authority (WATRA), CEO, Mrs. Lolia Emakpore said."VoIP is one example of a cross sector convergence technology that utilisespacket-switched networks, often the Internet, to make voice telephone calls.
By sharing bandwidth with other data or Internet applications, VoIPproviders offer these telephone calls at often cheaper rates thanconventional telephony," Ndukwe explained.Experts drawn from the sector both her and elsewhere suggested that Internet
service provides should be allowed to offer voice services but must be dulylicensed first said Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem.He called for a parading shift in the thinking of regulators and operators.There is only one pipe in telecom now and since that single pipe can serve
voice, video and data, there is no need to debar providers such as ISPs fromproviding services that technology allows them to offer. The only conditionis that they must meet the regulatory requirements," Ekuwem explained.
Russel Southwood, renowned technology analyst and editor of London basedBalancing Act thinks the growth and dynamics of technology has maderestriction unnecessary. IP technology has the potential to reduce cost of
service delivery and it is important that developing markets embrace this towiden the reach of telecom.Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) President Lanre Ajayi believes, the NCC hasadopted a proactive attitude to VoIP. He envisages a faster rate of VoIP by
operators including ISPs and telecom players.Delegates came from more than 16 countries including Tanzania, South Africa,Kenya, Ghana as well as Europe and the US. High profile speakers drawn fromthe ITU and the NCC. Exhibitors include Tfnet, Accelon, Omatek, Techno Corp,
Teledom and NIG. Others are Taide Network, CCSNL, Skyvision and Skannet.The NCC is worried by the high cost of telephone service in the country, andsaid it has liberalised regulatory grip on Voice over Internet Protocol
(VoIP) or Internet telephone.Chief Executive Officer of the NCC, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe said at the openingceremony of the VoIP African Forum in Lagos yesterday that theliberalisation is to make telephone services to unserved areas via the
broadband Internet or Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT).This will enable the country meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDS) by2010 ahead of the 2015 prescribed by the United Nations (UNO).Ndukwe, who was represented by West African Telecom Regulatory Agency
(WATRA), CEO, Mrs. Lolia Emakpore said Nigeria was taking a cue from thefirst VoIP African forum in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2004, where it wasagreed that faced by a dearth of telephone services across Africa, it was
agreed that regulatory changes should take place to liberalise theregulation of VoIP. Its uses should also be liberalised in order to drivedown the cost of telephone services.Ndukwe said regulators across Africa have been encouraged "to open up the
markets by licensing multiple international gateways to increase competitionand multiply service offering."Internet calls are cheaper than calls on Plain Old Telephone Services(POTS). They cost a fraction of the POTS calls. International calls go for
as little as N10 per minute.Nigerians recognise VoIP as a technology. Nigeria has not restricted the useof IP. Nigeria welcomes the use of VoIP and encourages telecommunicationsoperator to deploy it where applicable.
In consonance with its commitment to facilitating fair, transparent,effective and efficient regulation, vis-a-vs global trend and bestpractices, the Nigerian Communications Commission sought to determine
appropriate policies for the regulation of the Voice over Internet Protocol(VoIP) within the Nigerian telecommunications environment.To achieve this objective, the commission engaged the services of consultant
to review international best practices and advise the commissionaccordingly, taking cognisance of the peculiarities of the domestic market.This was followed with an industry consultation through a workshop to
appraise industry participants and obtain their inputs to the development ofrelevant policies.While noting the state of maturity of the telecommunications market inNigeria, vis-?-vis global trends in service and technological development,
the commission was convened that a sure way to promote universal access totelecommunication services, at this stage of the industry's development, isto evolve a policy framework that recognises the issues relating to VoIP as
an engine for the development of telephony in the country.Today, the market offers what might be termed "Voice Over Broadband" (VOB)widening the appeal for VoIP. Broadband networks have become popular. And
broadband Internet access continues to grow worldwide.At he start of 2004, there were more than 102 million broadband subscribersin about 100 countries where broadband services were available. Users, who
have broadband access to the internet generally experience fewerquality-of-service lapses than those who, in earlier days experimented withIP telephony over slow-speed dial up access.Traditionally, voice service could not be separated from the wires that
carried it and the industry has been highly regulated to date. On the otherhand, the Internet has generally enjoyed light regulations, defined by theU.S. Congress as a "no-regulation zone." However, the voice services that
was hitherto provided under "heavy regulations" is now availableregulation-free in some jurisdictions, still restricted in manyjurisdictions, while many others are still undecided, Ndukwe explained.
The low level of access to telephone in under-developed and developingcountries of Africa and elsewhere has been attributed to a number of factorsincluding the state of infrastructure, which inhibits adoption and
adaptation of emerging technologies; the low earning power of the people,arising from low GDP per capita; restrictive regulatory regimes, etc

Experts brainstorm on

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