Newsletter (1st Qrtr,2011)

Alexander Graham Bell is renowned for inventing the telephone over 130 years ago. What is not common knowledge is that he managed to get ahead his competitor Elisha Gray with just a few hours and fill in the paperwork required to patent the telephone. Bell won the accolades (after a fierce court battle) and he is now famous for inventing the telephone. Even back then, speed was essential in creating a technical advantage over the competition.

Did you know? The first voice over the telephone was
“ Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you”

When news of the telephone reached England through Cyrus Field’s cable, the British chief engineer of the Royal Post Office, former H.M. Postmaster General Anthony Wedgwood-Benn, was asked whether this new American invention would be of any practical value.

He gave the forthright reply: “No, sir. The Americans have need of the telephone — but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”  (related by Sir William Preece).

This quote shows how unprepared people are when it comes to big changes that will later influence their lives.

Something similar is happening today, when the world is slowly switching from Bell’s classical wired telephone to VoIP communications. Especially many of the South African population who are still sceptical in replacing their traditional devices with Internet based communication, but we think that it is just a matter of time until VoIP’s unbeatable advantages like price, usability, integration with applications, boost in productivity and mobility will convince them to step into the future.

Talking about the future, we’re in 2011!!! What a year gone by, 2010 was by far one of my best years. The World Cup has maybe cost us billions, but seeing joyous people in a difficult economic spell was worth every penny. It brought us together, put South Africa on the map, and forced our parastatals to upgrade the much needed technology and network.

In 2009, it was a massive year for the freedom of telecommunications, in 2010, it was a perfect opportunity for establishing infrastructure and somewhat forcing the industry to move towards digital. 2011, my crystal ball tells me that it will be a momentous year in growing the VoIP industry and finally reaching those targeted numbers we’ve worked so hard over the past two years for… 2011 is the year of VoIP, for sure! The Chinese should consider changing from the ‘Year of the Rabbit’ to ‘year of VoIP’, it will bring us all much more fortune!!

There are much changes to take place in 2011. That’s my hope anyway, with Mr Roy Padayachie, newly appointed communications minister, talking tough vowing to reconstruct his department.

“Improving and increasing access to government services offered online remains a strategic objective of government. To realise this objective, there is a need to develop and promote open, simple and secure online e-applications and content to bring new experiences to the citizenry in general,”
-Roy Padayachie, minister of communications, RSA,2010.

For one, the interconnect rate is planned to come down in March by about 20%. Although your wholesale rates will be lower, this does not necessarily mean that you will be selling at lower rates. In fact the incumbents are not even planning to lower their rates! (they have not lowered at the first rate cut either) After all, you have expenses to meet and a margin to make. We’ll play it by ear and we will suggest retail rates when we cross the bridge.

With the rates dropping every year, this clearly points out to a strategy change for many (especially the Lime Green and Orange folks). Luckily for O-Tel and its resellers, our strategy was perfect from day one, and that is not to rely on airtime profits, but recurring income deriving from services! There is a long list of services you can provide, from installation charges, line rental, on-site support, maintenance contracts, hardware sales, off-site PBX, call-back facility, voice mail, just too many to mention.

What’s more? Well, broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. 2010 seen the launch of many uncapped services over ADSL. As a result, O-Tel’s decided to offer an uncapped 512kbps ADSL service at a lowly R299pm(ex VAT)!

Yes! That’s right! For only R299pm you can use the (full access) internet without worrying that you will be capped if your staff watches too many youtube movie clips! And guess what?! You can connect upto 2 routers using one account! One connection for the local office, the other for the branch (or home). More than 2 concurrent calls using this service is NOT recommended.

Another ADSL service we’re offering is a ‘carry-over’ service of the LOCAL internet access, to be used for VoIP. For a mereR400, it buys you a whooping 20GB worth of bandwidth which you can connect 4 clients to! The account will run until its dry, then you simply recharge with another 20GB. No more forfeited bandwidth at month end!

Do you want to host your client’s website as a total package? How about paying R50pm for hosting a website with 50 email addresses? Good value huh?  Want it designed? A 5 page Corporate WEB2.0 site can be designed at wholesale price of R1500! (see otelafrica.com , cheapcall.co.za, azfavila.co.uk )Contact us for more info on this.

Why these changes? Well, as O-Tel’s network grows, we need to separate the smaller accounts with the larger ones. This means that the larger accounts will be using either a wireless connection or the popular O-Tel IPC to link to the switches. Hence the O-Tel network will be a ‘closed network’, known as intranet. Doing this will protect the client from hackers, provide him with higher quality voice, a more stable connection and saving him loads of money as he longer has to pay for bandwidth!

What about your clients who share their internet with voice you ask? Well, if they’re sharing, it means it is usually a smaller company or home user. If they are connecting via the public internet, they should be allocated separate resources, and this is only possible via a separate server. With this, it is also easier to support them as the support approach to a client on public IP and one on IPC is very different, as the troubleshooting method is different (from our side). The current road map shows SIP05 (Premium) changing to a public IP based system and SIP01 (LiTE) getting the IPC based connections. There will be NO ACCESS from the public internet to SIP01 (LiTE).

Our target is to have a full nationwide intranet working by 1st April 2011.

We’re expecting another major change sometime later this year. Telkom is holding firm to its ADSL infrastructure, but a call for LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) is on the cards. ICASA and DoC are looking into Telkom offering its ADSL line WITHOUT forcing the applicant to rent a voice line with it. So when we apply for an ADSL line, we can apply and pay only for the line. Until now, most of the resellers have been upgrading fax lines to ADSL and using that for the VoIP connection…it’s all about to change! Lower rental costs for the client! With number porting made possible, soon the client will not need to rely on Telkom for any services!

Looking back at 2009, the introduction to the ticket system took some adjusting, as the conventional method of calling for support had to be changed to support via ticket. This system has worked wonders for many resellers and for O-Tel. Although ICASA regulations stipulate a support query should be answered to within 48 hours, our average was a mere 80minutes! Naturally responses over weekends were slower, but our partnership with support teams placed on various continents made 24hour support possible. Thank you for using the support system.

Our technological and marketing expertise shows our level of commitment and enables O-Tel to deliver a quality product and service to your business. Our determination to bring you, our valued partner, effective VoIP service and solutions that enhance your business is fundamental to service delivery.

In keeping with this commitment, we are pleased to inform you that we will once again, for 2 years in a row, not raised any fees on your account.

However, seeing that our rising expenditure mainly derives from our support department, we have introduced a usage based support system. This means that O-Tel will provide limited free support via the ticket system.

The inclusive annual support package entails of a facility to submit 10 technical support tickets (only 10?! I’ll explain below) via the online billing portal(non-carry-over). Whether it is a system or client fault, all tickets directed to support team submitted via the portal will count as a support ticket.

If your enquiry is related to accounts, sales, or marketing, you may submit a ticket directed to accounts. Those tickets do not reach our support team, hence we can provide you with an unlimited amount of tickets. Please do not email us directly for any of the above, as all communication has to be documented and archived.

Be aware that if a technical support related query reaches the accounts department, by telephone, by SMS or by email, if responded to, a technical support ticket will be created in your account using your available ticket.

The free support tickets do not include any custom work, on-site/off-site assistance, or testing of the problem. You will be guided on what to look for, potential problems, and instructions on how to fix the problem. If the fix is required at server level, we will certainly do it at no charge. If we have to do some work on your behalf, there is an hourly charge of R350.

You might think that 10 support tickets is little, well it’s actually a lot. Over the year, we have analysed the hundreds of tickets submitted and fixed. We have a 99.2% fix rate. You cannot deny that most of your problems were attended to by quality staff and the tickets were resolved. The rest were circumstances beyond our control.

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”
Sir James Goldsmith, Anglo-French Businessman, publisher and politician

The surprising thing was that over 80% of the tickets were repetition from one client to another client. Meaning that in March someone will have XYZ problem, we will rectify and create the solution in our knowledge base. Some months later another client will query the same problem, of which the fix is already listed in the knowledge base. He could have fixed it by simply searching for it instead of logging a ticket and wait some time for response.

Common ticket problems are related to airtime, Last Mile Connectivity, weak firewall setup, wrong password (Mr Popular here), and bad setup of charge plans. Very few were server related. Of the server related ones, most of the clients get affected and our support team would already be working on fixing it by the time your ticket arrives.

The best fix is to first test using a Softphone. We find many tickets which are opened, and then closed by client before we get to respond, because they have fixed it themsleves. The point is that you should exhaust your attempts on fixing it according to your experience and our knowledge base articles before placing a support ticket.

If you feel that you still want telephonic/SMS/E-Mail support, I can offer you a support contract during business hours at a monthly fee. Call me to discuss this if you’re interested.

What if you’ve used up all your tickets before the annual renewal? Easy, we will bill you R2500 for another 10 pack support tickets. The option will soon be available from eSHOP.

On a lighter note, you have been requested to keep a minimum of 24hours worth of airtime in your portal as a cushion for unforeseen technical difficulties in purchasing airtime. If this is not done so, and you do require manual assistance, a R350 fee will be levied.

I am available telephonically, SMS, e-mail or in person for any discussions relating to sales, marketing, strategy, and general technical discussions. Not support related. If I am allowed to focus in the above subjects, we can all benefit more. If I get ‘bogged down’ supporting everyone, we will not see much progress. My forte is innovation in technology, ensuring that we’re ahead of the pack.

“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”
–Lee Lacocca, American CEO of Chrysler, reviving the brand between ‘79 and ‘92

Moving forward to further good news. As per my short piece of history at the beginning of this now loooong newsletter, the O-Tel team is constantly working on new technology and new service offerings. For a sneak peek, we’re looking at offering video calling service this year, and also total MS Outlook integration, where client no longer needs a desktop phone but all his communications are handled by his PC, using his mouse to click away a call!

We will be putting more effort into our off-site PBX offering, now that Telkom numbers can be ported, there is absolutely no reason why a company requires an on-site PBX with desktop phones.

There is much happening on the ICASA front. All resellers using O-Tel’s wireless license will be required to purchase tags to stick on their wireless equipment.Absence of those tags means that those devices are illegal and can be removed by ICASA without warning. Further, O-Tel will be fined, of which the fine will be passed onto you. More seriously, your resellership risks being revoked. You should be diligent enough to follow a simple legal rule of sticking a R5 ICASA sticker on your devices.
The bad publicity which O-Tel will receive for this can result in a very negative view of the company in the industry.

RICA is due on the 28th February 2011. Once again, there are risks of paying fines if not complete. Department of Justice has requested the clients ID Copy, company registration documents, residential rates and taxes of director (s) and a utility bill (for most this is on the rates and taxes document) be copied and filed physically or digitally. Most importantly, the clients account on the server must have his proper details, true address, email address, phone number, name, company name etc. At any given time, if we’re given a warrant by the police to divulge certain information, O-Tel is bound to comply with the law. Please prioritise this. I had given notification on these more than 6 months ago.

The ICASA tax contribution is also due soon. Those who are using the wireless license need to determine separately in their financial statement how much NET income was derived from it.

As most company begin the New Year fresh, some new staff are also brought in, all eager to begin the new job and give it their best. They will not go far without proper training though. Since you do not have the time to train your staff, we will be offering general VoIP courses. Keep a watch on our website for more info. If you want your staff to be trained for a specific task, we can negotiate the training fee.

“A good boss makes his men realize they have more ability than they think they have so that they consistently do better work than they thought they could”
-
US Secretary of Defence ’53 to ‘57

Last, but not least. A reminder that our billing cycle is on the 21st of every month. We allow 7 days to pay, so if the Automated System does not see any payments by 23:59 on the 28th, it will suspend all lines, de-registering all your clients. This applies to all clients. We understand that your cash flow only arrives after the first, but you should also understand that companies such as Vodacom, Telkom and MTN do not hesitate to cut O-Tel off on the first if payment is not made before then. Our monthly accounts to them are HUMONGOUS, hence we require the funds to be in and cleared so we can pay well in advance.

Phew! We’ve come to an end of this quarters (first quarter of 2011) newsletter. I am very excited for the events to occur in 2011. We have all seen much growth, and we will see even more this year.

Wishing you a very fruitful and profitable 2011….remember it’s the ‘year of the VoIP’… the rabbit was eaten….:)

“To move ahead you need to believe in yourself…have conviction in your beliefs and the confidence to execute those beliefs.”
–Adlin Sinclair, British businessman, motivational speaker and humanitarian.

Until next time……

Mohammad A. Patel
CEO
O-Tel Telecom