[ Johannesburg, 26 January 2009 ] – 2006 in the open source PBX sector, and has since evolved into a successful wholesaler of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions. The company operates through a network of trained resellers in the Gauteng area, although it has customers throughout South Africa by virtue of its inter-branch calling service.
Owned and managed by young technology enthusiasts who believe in open source communication technology, Songimali places great focus on customer support and service. It actively monitors its service in real time so that it can take immediate action to address any problems.
Songimali’s growth has been dramatic. Over the past year its customer base has grown from approximately 80 to almost 500, and its call rate from around 2000 to 25 000 per day. It expects to quadruple this growth during 2009.
The company has developed its own pre-and post-paid billing platform to manage customer accounts. This platform links into a broadband interface that converts VoIP signals into analogue or copper cable signals that can be connected to a PBX or normal analogue phone or fax machine.
“We therefore make use of the analogue equipment everyone owns, alleviating the need for IP devices such as IP phones or PBXs, a constraint many others suppliers have,” says Ronald Gill, Songimali’s sales director.
The company works with a number of wireless solutions for the ‘last mile’, including iBurst, WiMAX and ADSL.
Customers are billed from the Songimali platform, which tracks customer useage.
“When a customer attempts to place a call, the system calculates whether he has enough pre-paid minutes to place the call, and if so, the amount of time he can spend on the call,” explains Rolf Schurink, Songimali’s technical director. “If he is a post-paid customer, it checks that the call will not exceed his credit limit. Customers are warned when minutes are about to run out.”
Wholesaler Songimali Communications is able to on-sell high quality services across a next-generation network, low-cost telephone minutes and interconnects to the major telcos as a result of its win-win relationship with leading telco ECN. The partnership enables Songimali to provide reliable wireless telephone services to hundreds of SMEs left with no land lines following repeated copper cable thefts.
Songimali Communications provides wireless connectivity to around 500 SMEs who were previously trying to do business in copper wire theft ‘hot spots’, which left them without traditional fixed line telephones for months at a time. The company also provides centralised telephone services to business parks and gated communities.
Rigorous Carrier Selection
Songimali needed a stable telecoms carrier operator after experiencing bad service from a previous provider.
The company was looking for a reputable carrier that would provide good support and quality – and be able to sustain this no matter how quickly the company grew. The supplier also needed to understand Songimali’s niche business model and technology.
To find the ideal business partner, Songimali embarked on a rigorous selection process.
“We signed up with all the major VoIP operators in SA, and tested their networks extensively,” explains Gill. “On certain days we’d route all our traffic through one operator to test if they could cope with the load. We found that when volumes were low, support was good, but when we opened the pipe, in most cases the quality of the service fell drastically.”
The exception was ECN, which won ‘hands down’.
“ECN demonstrated reliability and quality, but more importantly, instantly understood what we were all about,” says Gill.
ECN, a leading provider of converged voice and data solutions, has now provided Songimali with a carrier route for IP telephony and interconnects into the major telcos since mid-2007.
ECN offers superior quality VoIP services over a next generation telecoms network. The company was the first electronic communications services provider in the market to establish bilateral interconnects to all the incumbent SA networks (Telkom, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C). It also has IP interconnects to both Neotel and Transtel to provide redundancy to all outbound destinations. ECN has four POPs country-wide located in Transtel’s exchanges on its redundant fibre backbone (located in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria).
Songimali now reaps multiple benefits from a solid partnership with a quality voice termination partner. ECN is a dynamic young company that really understands Songimali’s business model and is growing at the same pace. Advantages include a reliable, stable carrier for IP telephony; excellent call quality; low-cost minutes and good support.
And it’s a win-win relationship. Songimali was ECN’s first wholesale partner, and ECN is now benefitting from access to the SME market which it does not target directly. The wholesale channel has become a critical part of ECN’s business as a result.
“When ECN started, we had no costeffective model for servicing smaller customers,” says Andy Openshaw, ECN’s chief commercial officer. “Songimali aggregates all its traffic, so that to us it appears as one bulk client, opening up a whole new market for us. Now, through the wholesale chain, we can target customers no matter how small they are, including those who do not have wires to their homes.”
The partners have also worked together to develop new technology, and this recently resulted in the first fax over IP solution. There always used to be difficulties transmitting faxes from analogue fax machines over an IP network.
“We believe we were the first in South Africa, and maybe globally, to recognise this issue and provide a complete solution to it for our clients,” says John Holdsworth, CEO of ECN.
Songimali on-sells the call minutes it buys from ECN via its reseller network to its niche market customers and is able to provide high quality service at a reasonable price to its many smaller customers as a result.
“Customer service is a top priority for us, and ECN enables us to deliver this,” says Schurink. “Some of the other carriers have been known to be down for weeks when they’ve had network problems. ECN has always been able to fix any problem within hours, not days. Network availability is good.”
Support from ECN has also been consistently good.
“Songimali was the first wholesaler on the ECN network,” says Openshaw. “The company has done very smart things with its billing platform, manages its clients well and has grown its business enormously. The company therefore won the ECN Wholesaler of the Year award for 2008 – it was way ahead of the field.”
Poised For Growth
“We have had challenges over the past two years, but have always overcome them,” says Gill. “Many other VoIP companies have closed their doors within six months. We’ve weathered the storm, with ECN backing us. Next year hopefully we will be through the growing pains and will really start to see the benefits of all the groundwork both companies have put in.
“We’re evolving every quarter, using new technology as it becomes available and according to demand. We will continue to focus only on VoIP to ensure excellent service – we’re not interested in selling everything. We have several projects lined up for the next year and are geared for high growth. And as soon as the industry has proper regulations around number portability we will really take off.”