TalkNet launches South Africa network

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Australian VoIP provider TalkNet has set up a successful operation in South Africa that its director says will serve as a springboard into telecommunications-starved African nations.

Australian VoIP provider TalkNet has set up a successful operation in South Africa that its director says will serve as a springboard into telecommunications-starved African nations.

Bill Marlow, managing director at TalkNet, said the wholesale telecommunications provider had delivered, installed and started operating what it believed was the largest VoIP network so far in South Africa.

The new network, officially launched in Johannesburg last month by TalkNet's 10 percent-owned joint venture TalkNetAfrica, would mostly be managed from Australia, he said.

"Since [telecommunications in] South Africa became deregulated in February, Talknet has been in negotiations with a consortium of companies in the telecommunications services and mobile market fields," Marlow said.

He said Sydney-based Talknet would also maintain the "full VoIP network", which would cover South Africa and create the country's first "alternative" telecommunications provider.

"South Africa is just the first step with these joint venture partners, who already have telecommunications requirements and operations in Tanzania, Botswana, Nigeria and the People's Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)," Marlow said.

Talknet hoped to export VoIP networks into other African countries using fully tested wireless and satellite technologies, he said.

The consortium had already won customers including South Africa's Department of Defence and State Information Technology Agency (SITA), he said.

"That does 700 million rand ($141 million) of traffic per month. We reckon we can save them probably 300 million rand ($60 million) of that, because a lot of that traffic is internal," Marlow said.

"You're talking about tens of millions of rand a month [for TalkNet]."

VoIP using a combination of satellite and wireless technologies suited many African nations and rural areas, partly because cabling and other traditional hardware tended to get appropriated or stolen more regularly than in industrialised nations, he said.

"People just steal the cables. They need it for other things," Marlow said.

TalkNetAfrica was in discussions with various future partners -- including Australian satellite communications provider Multiemedia and its partner NewSat -- and customers that could help it expand its network throughout South Africa and beyond, he added.

"There's over 40 million people down there [in South Africa] but we're looking at it as a stepping stone to the rest of Africa," he said. "All in all, we have the expectation of having probably four networks in the next year -- maybe two or three in the next six months."

Marlow said TalkNet staff -- including himself -- had experience in African telecommunications and understood many of the difficulties involved in the developing countries there.

TalkNet started in April 2004. Its Australasian channel includes Destra Communications, Bluefire, Endeavour Connect, Emerging Technologies, Activ Communications, and New Zealand-based DTS Communications.

The company has its own network in Australia and offered hosted telephony services. Marlow said TalkNet was still doing well here but had temporarily shifted its focus to take advantage of the export opportunity offered by South African telecommunications deregulation.

"It is something we can't ignore, because we believe there's so much technology needed down there. So if we can bring technology from Australia and into Africa -- the door is open now and I don't know how long it's going to stay open," Marlow said.
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