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VoIP Booming in Africa 172

securitas writes "The NY Times reports on the rapid growth of voice-over-IP telephony (VoIP) in sub-Saharan Africa and the battles it is waging with the government monopolies/ILECs. VoIP upstarts are taking market share from the government telcos, making it vastly more affordable to make a phone call since they don't charge the usual exorbitant tariffs and excessive user fees. Governments have responded by shutting down these operations, seizing equipment and cutting off service to lines they suspect of using Internet telephony. Part of the boom is related to the wait times for getting a phone line (Ghana Telecom has a backlog of 300,000 line requests), poor quality of service (50% of time you get a busy signal instead of a dial-tone) plus the willingness to trade voice quality for basic service. Foreign companies are now setting up VoIP call centers and multinationals like gold giant Newmont Mining plan to use VoIP for communications in and out of Africa. Some observers call Accra the next Bangalore, predicting a boom for the region that may make sub-Saharan Africa a major technology hub. This fits nicely with Kofi Annan's drive to use the Internet and wireless networks to change the lives of the poor."
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VoIP Booming in Africa

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  • by BJZQ8 ( 644168 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:00PM (#6374579) Homepage Journal
    So how long until we start outsourcing jobs there?
    • Not likely.. it would be easier (cheaper) to set up in a country that already has the infastructure.
    • So how long until we start outsourcing jobs there?

      From what they talk about in the article, it already seems there's a call center there, which is being used to sell services in the northeastern US. Despite the claims of the article though, places like Ghana (which is really one of the better off places in Africa) still lack the resources that places like India have. Programming jobs are outsourced to India because 1) there is an education system there that produces a work force capable of doing that ki

      • by EvlG ( 24576 )
        You forgot 3) The work force is willing to work for a fraction of the cost of a domestic workforce.

        This is really the key. Without the lower cost, why outsource at all?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's not jobs that are being outsourced.. it's work.

      Would you be pissed if your job was taken over by a robot? Why do you get pissed if it's taken over by a fellow human? Why not just ask for welfare rather than burden someone trying to run a business?

      Provide less value? Unprofitable? Get outsourced.

      Anyway, it's going to be USA -> Bangalore -> Africa

      • Welfare instead of burdening someone trying to run a business...

        Interesting concept, but welfare comes from the taxes paid by citizens & corporations.. corporations & wealthy citizens (e.g. busines owners) pay a vast majority of the taxes, so either way it's the same deal.

      • Yes I would be pissed off if my job was taken over by a robot. I dont like the new automated self healing server technology, that makes me and all my knowledge and certifications useless.

        Do you think I have the time and money to not only compete with 6 billion people, but machines too?
    • So how long until we start outsourcing jobs there?

      And how long until our boys have to lug around the Saharan Torpedo?

  • by Snake_Plisken ( 666881 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:01PM (#6374590)
    Our offshore call center uses VoIP. Quality is shakey, it is difficult to hear, and calls get dropped or crossed with other service providers out of that facility. If Ghana has no other option (the 300,000 waiting list makes it sound like they don't) then I guess anything is beter than nothing, but as a professional business tool I don't think VoIP is there yet for rock solid stability and clear communciation.
    • I don't know. Over a broadband connection, it's better quality than a telephone line. And with broadband becoming more and more an option (for which we can thank p2p), VoIP would be worth reconsidering.
    • by Col. Klink (retired) ( 11632 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:27PM (#6374702)
      Well, the problem could be that they haven't allocated enough bandwidth for their VoIP. With POTS, you either have a dial tone or you don't. With VoIP, you can get more dialtones but at lower quality.

      I just started using Vonage's VoIP for a second line (email me for a referral/discount), and the quality is fine. I had to do some QoS tinkering on my firewall, but now the VoIP traffic has priority over other network traffic and call quality is consistent. Before the QoS tinkering, the calls would sound horribly choppy when I started a large download.
    • by HardcoreGamer ( 672845 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:42PM (#6374762)

      but as a professional business tool I don't think VoIP is there yet for rock solid stability and clear communciation

      As a professional business tool, as it's discussed in the article, companies like Newmont (the second largest gold producer in the world) will most likely use dedicated or leased lines (and probably VPN for security) to get to the Internet backbone, at which point VoIP's QoS has a much higher likelihood of being stable and clear.

      A company like Newmont will not allow critical corporate communications to be transmitted with a technology that can't perform to the high levels that it is accustomed to. Newmont can afford the best, so this seems to be an indication that whatever VoIP solution Newmont is using is more than capable of handling the task.

    • I work in an outsourcing call center - trust me the last thing a company thinks about before paying some guy 300$ a month (if they are lucky) to fix dell computers is call quality or even issue resolution.
    • by rynthetyn ( 618982 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @11:37PM (#6375239) Journal
      Considering what I've heard about African phone service from a professor I had who lived in Africa for a number of years, I would venture to say that VoIP would be an improvement on what they have now. In many parts of Africa, the phone lines are in such bad condition (poorly spliced together, full of dirt and the like), that you're lucky if you can have a conversation through all the static. If they were able to implement Wi-Fi so that it was available to a broad enough segment of the country that people in remote villages could have internet access, VoIP could revolutionize the lives of the average African villager.

      Remember, we aren't talking just about business, we are talking about empowering the little guy to have access to the outside world. The more access to means of communication, the less they can be controlled and oppressed by others.
    • With the proliferation of mobile phones, the bar has been lowered for call quality, people are used to poor connections, dropped calls, etc. VoIP, even on a poor connection is often preferable to a mobile call.

      I use VoIP all day (I have a nice commercial Quintum gateway at home, and at each of our offices). I will get calls from co-workers on my cell, and if I get frustrated (often) I will call them back over VoIP with MUCH better performance. All of our inter-office voice traffic is VoIP.

      Your problem
    • I lived in ghana. An internet connection lasts 45 minutes. They even don't have constant power supply. ghana will face a business boom as soon as mayor problems are resolved. However, don't believe in the word "digital divide", IT removes divide. Wealth distribution is very unequal in ghana, nobody cares, because they avoid social clashes. work hierarchy is based of age, you don't critizise someone who is older than you. ghanians avoid conflict. That results to peacefulness and poor service quality. the
  • by rjch ( 544288 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:05PM (#6374607) Homepage

    ...this will be the start of the demise of telephone networks - at least over in Africa, anyway. VoIP is getting more and more refined, along with more and more applications, such as the GPL'd Asterisk [] software PABX system. Most of the larger PABX systems I've seen around give the capability for VoIP links to other offices and if suitable gateways become more widely available, the move to VoIP will slowly but surely become more widespread as the larger companies that deal with the countries that have widespread VoIP penetration start to use those links to reduce the cost of making phone calls.

    Can't come soon enough for my liking.
  • Irony? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:06PM (#6374615) Journal
    How ironic is it that third world nations could end up leading the way in voip adoption? in the US this is still a mishmash of technologies and there is comparatively little use simply because we have so many competing options for phone service.

    This is but one more great example of how monopolies can be good for markets; Put enough pressure on a resource, and people will find alternatives.

    It would be great if this could help uplift the entire continent, but I still have my doubts. Corporations bring in the money, and no corporation is going to set up shop in a country with no stable government... which seems to be a real theme on that continent.

    • I agree with pop, sometimes it just seems certain areas of the world are a 'lost hope', so when innovation can come through,its amazing, but like you said, who knows why there first. Of course makes you ponder if its being stopped here, that is, progess will never be able to go forward far enough , when a brand new technology will come out that is 'better', and this will all be forgotten, until it happens again
    • Re:Irony? (Score:3, Insightful)

      This is but one more great example of how monopolies can be good for markets; Put enough pressure on a resource, and people will find alternatives.

      I'm not sure how this monopoly situation is really good for the market in general. If there wasn't all of this gov't monopoly pressure, maybe the money being invested in lower-quality VoIP would be invested in building a half-way decent phone system. The way things are now, only people with access to high speed internet (via radio or satelite or whatever) see

      • Re:Irony? (Score:3, Informative)

        by isdnip ( 49656 )
        Excellent post. I was going to write a similar note but I'll second this one and add to it.

        Circuit-switched telephone networks aren't actually costly to build nowadays -- the competitive-bid price of circuit-switching (TDM) gear is a small fraction of what it was 15 years ago. Lucent and Nortel stock suffers as a result. Undersea cable bandwidth is also much, much cheaper. If one evaluates the cost of building a new wireline network from scratch, then TDM/circuit is not much costlier than VoIP; it coul
    • Re:Irony? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:27PM (#6374705) Homepage Journal
      How ironic is it that third world nations could end up leading the way in voip adoption?

      Not at all; that's exactly where you'd expect it to happen first. In more advanced countries, you'd expect the established phone companies to have the clout to block it.

      But it's not even true that third-world nations were first. There have already been a lot of stories about how most of the new phone service in Japan is now VoIP. And Japan isn't exactly a third-world nation.

      The real puzzle is why Nippon Tel didn't manage to block it.

      Here in the US, we've been reading about how the phone system has gone to IP for essentially all long-distance traffic. But the phone companies have done a good job of blocking VoIP at the retail level, because this would destroy their main source of income.

      • They haven't entirely blocked it as there are several cable companies doing this, not to mention Vonage [], which I now use.

        -- PhoneBoy

        • Yeah, well ATT Broadband specifically blocked SIP traffic to Vonage from my segment of their network. I got on the phone with a 3rd level tech, and he saw the access list in one of their routers and removed it. Shortly after, someone put it back.

          Technically, aren't they committing a felony by disrupting communications of a POTS phone call, because that's eventually what it becomes.
          • Well, I guess that's one way to shut down the competition: block traffic to/from their network.
            Legal? Probably, if only because there's no law specifically forbidding it. Slimy? Absolutely.

            Fortunately, I don't have AT&T Broadband, er, Comcrap. Of course, I dunno if Charter is any better, but at least they haven't blocked SIP traffic to Vonage yet.

            -- PhoneBoy
      • Not at all; that's exactly where you'd expect it to happen first. In more advanced countries, you'd expect the established phone companies to have the clout to block it.

        You have it backwards. In more advanced countries you would expect the competing entities in the country to be vying for customers by introducing new technologies and racing to see who can stay ahead of the competition. When you have large entrenched powers stifling innovation, then your country no longer belongs in that coveted "more ad

      • Hmmm ROT13? I double decrypted your message just fine with DES...
    • How ironic is it that third world nations could end up leading the way in voip adoption?

      I am not sure it is ironic. On the contrary, it may be expected. Since they do not have the same existing infrastructure, and investment in and desire to depreciate same, it is easier for them to start over from scratch. They may not have to worry to the same extent about obsoleting existing equipment and infrastructure overnight, bankrupting companies and people, and threatening the powers that be.

    • Re:Irony? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jetmarc ( 592741 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:32PM (#6374726)
      > How ironic is it that third world nations could end up leading the way in voip adoption?

      It's not ironic at all. And I think, it's also not too much related to
      competition, but rather to the history of the market.

      Let me explain my view: I'm german, but live in Spain since a few years.
      Germans perceive Spain as "10 years" behind, when it comes to technology.
      This is definately not true. There's only little technological research
      and development going on in Spain (a lot less than in Germany). But on the
      other hand, Spain doesn't have the same legacy!

      While Germany, as a first minute adopter, employs less-than-state-of-the-art
      system and keeps them running (because it was a huge financial investment),
      "2nd category" countries like Spain can directly head towards the refined
      essence of the technology. Until no more than 3 years ago, Germany still had
      a considerable market share of analog cellular phones, while Spain was
      practically 100% digital.

      There are hundreds of similar examples. Because Spain doesn't invent all
      the stuff, they don't hurry to get stuck with expensive first generation
      prototypes. They just relax, lets stuff grow and madurate, and ignore
      comments about being "behind". As soon as the technology is ready and
      cheap, they employ it en gros within very little time. They overtake
      the leader, and with only a fraction of the financial investment.

      Of course, without 1st generation adopters there wouldn't be and 2nd
      generation. So the germans aren't as stupid as it appears here. But in
      my opinion, this mechanism is definately involved when African countries
      use better technology than the USA or Europe...

    • It's not ironic at all and it shouldn't be surprising either.

      Historically Africa has had a whole series of problems that we aren't going to get deep into here, including the legacy of colonialism, wars (part of the legacy), famine and disease. These problems have prevented African nations from reaching their full potential and resulted in an underdeveloped telecom infrastructure (among other things, but that's for another discussion).

      In the West, which has had relative stability for the last 60 years, the
    • Strange that only third-world countries get named, but even in Switzerland, you can VoIP as a consumer.

      See.Digitalphone [] for the details (click in the upper left corner for the right language). And yes, this is for people who don't even have a POTS line at home, in direct competition to our monopolist Swisscom.
  • Oh good, they can start using a more logical radix. All that logic will certainly cut the aggression and wars there.
    • >>Oh good, they can start using a more logical radix. All that logic will certainly cut the aggression and wars there.

      Not to mention a bountiful supply of nourishing food.

      Is there anything Kofi can't do? My Hero! <roll eyes>
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:13PM (#6374650)

    VoIP Booming in Africa

    A good highpass filter will take care of that booming which is usually caused by microphone handling. Set your rolloff at about 50Hz.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    But this is /. , so we will mark this as off-topic.
  • by c4Ff3In3 4ddiC+ ( 661808 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:20PM (#6374679)
    It isn't until you see an article like this that you realize exactly how much you take for granted when you make a simple phone call. Can you imagine if the Government in your country forced you to use their own crappy telephone service? It's kind of surprising that some people complain about the breaking up of AT&T but the end result is better, cheaper phone service.
    • At least they dont have to use BT
    • Can you imagine if the Government in your country forced you to use their own crappy telephone service?

      Yes I can... That's why I'm proud to live in a country with tons of gun-carrying crazies... It's funny, people always say how much they hate having crazy gun-nuts around, but they take so many things for granted that are actually protected by the gun-toting nuts.

      Even if a politician like Bush could -uccessfully work-over our government and bend it to their will, they'd still have to be careful not to i

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:26PM (#6374700)
    > Governments have responded by shutting down these operations, seizing equipment and cutting off service to lines they suspect of using Internet telephony.

    I am Neal, Boy of Cow, and I please to have your assistance! My father was the operator of a VoIP service until the government of Ghana have responded by shutting down the VoIP operation, seizing his equipment and cutting off service to lines it suspect of using Internet telephony. I have an OC-48 of bandwidth available for all ur spamming need, but 1st u must deposit me the IP addresses of 256 open proxies of stupid lusers with open proxies on,,,, or! PLS HELP, U HELP ME, I CAN HELP U! GOD BLESS U!!!1!

  • Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Traa ( 158207 ) * on Saturday July 05, 2003 @09:26PM (#6374701) Homepage Journal
    I don't really get the hype around VoIP nowdays. In the last few years my local+long distance phone bill went from $30 per month to $20 per month. And I call a lot, especially from California to my family in The Netherlands. My Internet bill on the other hand went from $9.95 (modem days) to $49.50 for fairly standard DSL (1.5M/768K). So in the time they got us VoIP, the costs have shifted enough that it becomes rather insignificant.
    • Re:Cost (Score:3, Informative)

      by poptones ( 653660 )
      But you could operate 24 voip lines in that DSL line you are paying for - and that's only limited because of your upstream rate. If your connection were symmetric you could run a whopping 48 voice conversations on that DSL line, for a grand total of about $2 a line.

      Does your phone company require a "hot" line for DSL? They (often) don't here; you can have DSL without even paying for dial tone service, and at prices roughly equal to what you describe. So, even at your asymmetric rates that comes to $4 a lin

      • by EvlG ( 24576 )

        Does your phone company require a "hot" line for DSL? They (often) don't here; you can have DSL without even paying for dial tone service, and at prices roughly equal to what you describe.

        I've never seen a phone company that didn't require a "hot" line as you describe. It's one of the most effective ways they have of blocking VoIP, since you are already paying for the phone line to get broadband.

        In a related note, why doesn't FCC require local phone companies to give you DSL lines without attached phone

        • When I lived in LA you could get DSL without dialtone service. There was even a package deal being offered up north (perhaps by Qwest, but I can't recall) that included a DSL line, a specialized router that had network and phone jacks, and voip "dialtone" service. Although I haven't seen it I know some cable companies have experimented with a similar model.

          That may have changed now that the phone company convinced the FCC it doesn't have to let others share its lines for internet services, but in many plac

          • by EvlG ( 24576 )
            I should clarify; in my mind, having to pay for a single phone line kills resedential VoIP.

            Why would I want to pay $40 to vonage for a service I already have, namely, local calling. Sure, I could get tons of LD calling along with it, but for that I have my mobile.

            I would switch to Vonage for their features (like web accessible voicemail) without a second thought, IF I could ditch my ILEC phone line and still keep my DSL.

            Sadly, that doesn't seem to be an option around Dallas. And I'm NOT using cable modem
      • Why on earth would I need 24 or 48 simultaneous lines?
        I personally do not trust the QoS I receive from my ISP to allow me to go over to VoIP. I would not like to try to call the emergency services and receive the following:

        The Number cannot be contacted
        The Number you are looking for is currently unavailable. The Number might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your browser settings.

        Give me ONE stable, always on reliable line; whatever the technology
      • Your answer, as much as it might be correct, is only highlighting the technical benefits of a service that I simply don't need in the real world. Really, I only have two ears, and can barely hold a single reasonable conversation. What am I supposed to do with 48 voice conversations?

        VoIP was so hyped several years ago but in the end arrived to late to make a difference.

        my 2 cents.
        • You nor LC are looking at the big picture. Of course most of us do not need 24 lines in our home. My point was simply that line that seems so much more expensive now ($10 vs $40) is not just a little more powerful than the old one - it's a lot more powerful. And despite none of us needing such capabilities at home, consider the impact on a small business; rather than buying a dozen business lines they need only a single DSL line - which, even for businesses that need guaranteed bandwidth, is a mere $100 pro
    • Good for you, here in New York my $20/month line from Verizon does not even allow me to call Manhattan from Brooklyn, and my calls to the rest of Brooklyn are metered. On top of that when I stand on my roof to have a smoke I have to look at the ugly Verizon sign across the East River. Sure if I paid them $60/month I could have all of same features my VOIP line gives me for $40/month (except that Verizon does not have all of the nifty features my VOIP line has) and I would still have to pay for metered long
    • One significant thing, is that telecos know haw inexpensive VoIP is, and are seriously cutting their rates to try and compete. Gee, once VoIP started getting feasable, all the telcos came out with $20/month unlimited long-distance service, what a coincidence...

      Also, even though VoIP would probably still save you some money, you are stuck needing a teleco line for DSL, which means you can't very well cut out the telco completely. With companies, who have dedicated data lines, at least 100Mbps lines, bandw
    • I don't know what you're paying for long distance. But I can say that I've noted Vonage has considerably lower rates for long distance than I've found via standard telcos.
  • Make it so friggin expensive that no one can afford more than 1 call a month.
  • As someone in the UK who occasionally has to phone information lines, as well as a most being either French or Indian, it normally sounds like a bad mobile connection - (I know VOIP can be nice but) does that suggest VOIP is taking off with bigger European companies under circumstances?
  • I was there.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2003 @10:24PM (#6374900)
    I was in Ghana a few months ago for twelve weeks.

    VOIP is illegal, aside from strictly personal use as it represents potential for competition with the phone company. Ghana Telecom only wants to implement VOIP such that it may save them more money to increase their bottom line.

    In fact, as I understand it, they have implemented it to a rather large degree, and have yet to pass any savings to their extremely poor customer base. Internet cafes outside of the capital, Accra, often pay somewhere in the vacinity of $1000 per month[1] simply in long distance charges, as no ISPs exist outside of the two major cities. Despite the fact that the infrastructure exists to extend leased lines and add pops in many locations throughout the country, Ghana Telecom has no interest.

    USAID, in an ill-advised attempt to help has set up and fully funded telco charges for some remote internet cafes but left behind no administration, allowing the established companies to severely undercut their competition.

    [1]: 8,400 Ghanaian cedis equal one US dollar. Many people outside of the two major cities (Accra, Kumasi) often make under 100,000 per month. While this is often sufficient for housing and food, twenty cents per minute long distance charges are simply outrageous.
    • It's the same problem in Kenya. We have a satellite disk on the roof of our office in Nairobi which we use for telecomminications (VPN etc.) but we're forbidden for using it for VOIP.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    When one country can leapfrog another because of their reduced infrastructure, they can boom on the second or third generation technology. This is exactly what happened in Germany in the late 1800's when England was stuck with the first generation steel mills. Germany could make the smaller more efficient ones while England was stuck paying off the bigger ones.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @10:34PM (#6374938)
    In the old Soviet Russia, one of the first signs that there is an attempted coup in progress was that the Moscow TV stations were invaded by supporters of whomever is trying to take power. The reason was simple, if you controled the TV signals you controled the easiest means of communications with the people, and one of their few sources of news. You could tell your story uninterfered with, and block the other side's ability to tell theirs.

    This is why governments want to control their phone systems, and why they don't really want it to work that well. They don't want it to be too easy for their subjects to communicate with each other, particularlly they're scared somebody's going to discuss the overthrow of those in power. The ability to freely communicate and have at least something that resembles a fair election of leaders is taken for granted in most of North America and Europe, but in other places it's not so easy.

    So, by creating a telephone monopoly that makes a half-hearted effort, they've been able to say that they have telephone service for business purposes, while still limiting their people's ability to talk to each other over distance. But, the Internet snuck up on these regimes from behind, and just now they're realizing they forgot to regulate and monopolize it. VoIP isn't that good or reliable compared to well-maintained phone systems, but it's pretty good compared to intentionally mismanaged ones. Competition is usually welecomed because it forces the old monopoly to either perform to the best of its abilities or get out of the game, but this time the monopoly is just crying to the rulers and the rulers see the need to solve this problem the same way they solve any other threat to their ability to stay in power...

    VoIP is an idea that looks interesting on the chalkboard but there's no reason for Americans to convert to it when they have an ultra-reliable phone network and pretty good cell phone coverage in populated areas. It's the places that don't have those things that really need VoIP.
  • That's perhaps the single best thing about VoIP... You really can't shut it down. If you stop all the VoIP providers in your own country, you are just forcing the providers to operate from another country. TCP/IP packets _can_ get through, no matter what.

    What are they going to do to stop international VoIP? A house-by-house search of everyone that has a computer? Checking all in-comming and out-going mail to be sure it isn't going to/from a VoIP company?
    • Is it Cable & Wireless that blocked all normal VOIP ports in the caribean to reduce the VOIP traffic(as recently as a few months ago)? The reality is that many third world countries still allow their telco monopolies to get away with typical monopoly activities. Anti-competitive behaviour, the stuff that will get you investigated and fined in Europe and the States, is in many cases protected by law. These laws won't change soon either, too many palms being crossed with gold for that to happen. Getting b
      • Is it Cable & Wireless that blocked all normal VOIP ports in the caribean to reduce the VOIP traffic(as recently as a few months ago)?

        However, that is an incredibly short-term solution. In fact, to prevent blocking-by-port, most internet-services companies run their service on the authorized ports, but also run them on port 80 on several machines. This has made blocking of Instant Messaging applications far more complicated, and they _could_ have made it impossible to block, had they wanted to incur

  • by dominic.laporte ( 306430 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @11:36PM (#6375237)
    Its amazing how open source voip is unknown. Unfortunately not many people know this [] even exists. What a shame !
  • Africa has the Internet? Since when? I thought, like, 40% of the population in Africa haven't never seen or used a telephone.
    • 40% of deepest darkest Mississippi have not seen a telephone yet either!

      To export our values and technology to the third world we need to look more carefully at the state of our own house. Some technologies are not appropriate in the third world, the same thing applies to areas in the US.
      Expensive high-tech communication is not the answer to poverty and ignorance.

      There is no get rich quick consumer base to fleese so the American big dollar high-tech model will not work. Coca-cola politics cause hate, and
  • by ChrisCampbell47 ( 181542 ) on Sunday July 06, 2003 @12:25AM (#6375390)
    The customer was a US telecom company (nobody that anyone here's ever heard of), and they contracted with my employer to build an Standard B IDR earth station to link Ghana out to London and Toronto, if memory serves. (Google for "Standard B satellite gateway" and "IDR IBS satellite" to see what that means)

    Along with the 11-meter antenna, all the equipment was housed in a small building full of racks and UPS, and a generator outside. The generator (and fuel storage, fuel delivery services, etc.) had to be rated to be able to deliver hours of power, on a routine basis (daily), because that's how often the power would fail.

    Now, that was just the gateway to allow the public phone network to interface to the rest of the world. I also built a pan-African voice and data satellite network for a corporate customer (hint: Exxploit) that simply wanted to bypass all the local telco nonsense and just have a system (albeit and expensive one) that would work regardless. Calls went from city to city (e.g. Libreville to Accra) over the private satellite network and went to the rest of the world via a direct hop to London.

    A critical factor in all of this is the ability to get the equipment LEGAL in the country (look up "homologation") -- it's really just an elaborate national shakedown system (as is the european CE mark). The key for us getting the contract was that we had our foot in the door in most of the countries already and could get the equipment in and on the air by riding our existing paperwork.

    Anyway, all this is to illustrate that the tariff issue is of critical importance, and solving the technical issues are really secondary -- you've got to find a way to make it legal or the local jackboots will shut you down.

    - Chris

    P.S. And to illustrate a sadder side of the business, the guy who built the Accra gateway with me, Peter Kennedy, later took a contract job building telecom infrastructure in Chechnya, was taken hostage by Chechen rebels [] for ransom, and was found decapitated a few weeks later. Not a peep out of the U.S. State Department. Peter was a really nice guy.

    • >> I also built a pan-African voice and data satellite network

      _You_ have built it or helped build it? Because if you've built it yourself, you must be really close to God Almighty.
      • >> I also built a pan-African voice and data satellite network

        >_You_ have built it or helped build it? Because if you've built it yourself, you must be really close to God Almighty.

        That's fair. I was the sole systems engineer in charge of rolling it out. Another [sales] engineer convinced the customer that our stuff could do it, a program manager dealt with the money side, and one or two field engineers (like Peter) built the first remote sites, educating some locals in the process and then t

    • > Not a peep out of the U.S. State Department.

      That's tragic, but what does the US State Dept have to do with it? From the google links, they were "three Britons and one New Zealander".
      • Maybe he's pissed because the US is "ignoring" the issues going on in chechnya on Russia's behalf. There were more Americans in Chechnya than in Iraq before the US invaded. It doesn't make sense why the US cares about people in Iraq, but not Chechnya. Oh yeah, more oil in Iraq. Have fun, Putin!
        • Once again, typical anti-US tirade. When the US *does* intervene, we're the bad guys because our motivations are more complicated than some simple black-and-white morality.

          When we *don't* intervene, we're the bad guys. I heard a tirade on CBC (Canadian) this weekend about the failure of the US in Rwanda. I'm sorry, but there was a *Canadian* in charge of the peacekeeping force and it was the fucking Francophones in Europe responsible for getting that political situation set up that way.

          I've got news fo
          • There's a difference between deploying troops and denouncing what's going on. If Bush and friends really cared about quality of life for people in the world (and not merely what's in it for us), they would do as much as they could to at least bring light to the situation. One needn't equate invading a country with denouncing policy, although that seems to be what Bush and friends are doing right now. Don't think of it as attacking Russia, but more like one friend saying to another friend "Dude, quit play
      • Customarily, when a telecom worker is decapitated,
        the U.S. State Department is supposed to send
        little marshmallow bunnies and chickies to their
        old co-workers. This just goes to show how far
        downhill things have gone since Jimmy Carter.
    • The guy who built the Accra gateway with me, Peter Kennedy, later took a contract job building telecom infrastructure in Chechnya, was taken hostage by Chechen rebels for ransom, and was found decapitated a few weeks later.

      My wife worked for the company (Linya Svayzi) in St Petersburg that comissioned the project in Chechnya with the engineers supplied by Granger Telecom. It was installing a GSM system, if I remember right. Infrastructure projects in areas like Chechnya were seen as cooperating with the

  • Gotta mention... GnomeMeeting []. VoIP for Linux.
  • Haha, this reminds me of my childhood in smalltown Zambia. The cool thing was to make wire cars. The were made entirely out of heavy wire and you could steer them and everything. Pretty cool. Anyway, my friend and I would go to this big telecom switch in the ground and pull out all the bright colourful wires to adorn our cars. I knew it wasn't the nicest thing to do but it wasn't until later when I looked back that I realized just how evil that was. Ironically enough, my friend ended up working for th
  • by nadaou ( 535365 ) on Sunday July 06, 2003 @03:04AM (#6375893) Homepage
    If you are looking for a nice Open Source VoIP client that works on Windows, Linux, and OS/X, try Speakfreely. For linux/osx track down the Tcl/Tk GUI.

    encryption, multiple codecs, NAT, the works.

    The original author and once-again maintainer is John Walker, founder of Autodesk, Inc. and co-author of AutoCAD. (!!!)

    note: the debian package is criminally out of date and is depreciated, out of date, and morphed into a commercial site.

  • Wohoo (Score:5, Funny)

    by loconet ( 415875 ) on Sunday July 06, 2003 @03:10AM (#6375915) Homepage
    Now it should be easier for me to contact the Nigerian Prince who needs me to transfer his money.
  • by Trozy ( 666364 ) on Sunday July 06, 2003 @03:42AM (#6375994)
    One of the worlds largest Voice of IP rollouts is almost complete at the Australian National University (ANU), with over 1500 handsets already installed. For more info see here [].

    The Quality of Service (QoS) issues (lag, jitter, etc) were overcome using tagged VLANs and prioritising voice over video and other general data traffic. The Gigabit eithernet backbone is in a meshed star topology, supposedly providing five 9's (99.999%) reliability. Multiple gateways connect the internal telephone system to the outside analogue world.

    Looks like Africa has some competition.
  • VOIP in Ghana (Score:4, Informative)

    by zaad ( 255863 ) on Sunday July 06, 2003 @03:52AM (#6376018)
    Disclaimer: The tech scene in Ghana was and is probably changing at a phenomonal pace. Anything I say below could be wrong not only because it might be completely outdated, but also because it's a complicated place both politically and technologically. But to the best of my knowledge, the information below is accurate.

    I was in Ghana as a volunteer last August, and I actually worked for a Ghanaian ISP that terminated VOIP calls, in addition to consulting and helping other "ISP's" set up VOIP gateways.

    The legality was murky at best. Everyone gave me conflicting answers about whether it was legal or not. From the prevalence (I'll explain later), I would say that it's certainly tolerated. Few people (if any) ever got busted for doing VOIP. Part of the reason is that corruption is so rampant, you can easily dash (bribe) your way out of any trouble if you're willing to pay up.

    Most "Internet Cafe's" or ISP there (most) with their own satellite were doing VOIP. The math was easy. A 512 down/384 up connection were costing about $8,000 U.S. per month (this is before fiber became available). You can't sign up any decent amount of dialup customers because most people didn't have phonelines and GT (Ghana Telecom) would take its sweet time pulling lines.

    In fact, it took something like 18 months I believe for the NGO that I was volunteering for to get two lines (and I believe they had to totally work their connections). Almost all businesses and expats resorted to cellphones (the dominate player was Spacefon, I believe it's actually a scandinavian company that worked out some sort of a sweet deal that can't be revoked). But it's almost impossible to call a cellphone from a landline or vice versa (another long story, also has to do with the fact that GT is a government owned monopoly).

    Internet Cafe's were a joke. They typical charge was something like 4,000 cedis to 10,000 cedis per hour. That translates to about 40 cents to just over a dollar. Nevermind whether the typical Ghanaian can afford those prices, if you have to pay out something like $8,000 per month just for the bandwidth, you simply can't make your money back.

    So instead, what you do is to set up an "ISP/Internet Cafe" and you really do sign up customers and such. But what you really do is to get GT to pull a bunch of phonelines to your premises. Then you install a VOIP gateway and negotiate with western telecomms to terminate calls to those phonelines. That was the only way that they can pay for the bandwidth. Even in the U.S., voice services are much more lucrative than data services.

    The "ISP" that I worked for not only terminated calls of their own, they also helped other places set them up as well (they charged a consult fee in addition to getting some sort of kick back from the bandwidth provider). I personally help with a couple of those and helped setting up a traffic shaper/bandwidth limiter.

    They were actually in negotiations with GT to help them set up a prepaid card system that used VOIP. But I don't believe it ever got anywhere. The trouble with GT is that they had a monopoly and didn't have any incentive to be competitive. And because long distance voice services profits are very high, they have almost no reason why they want to change things.

    So while private companies are definitely adopting VOIP, I don't believe GT is actually taking advantage of the technology. I actually sat in on a meeting with some higher-ups at GT. They didn't seem to care that it's a good technology or it would be the right thing to do. The primary interest definitely seemed to focus on how they (personally) would benefit. It's not out in the open of course. And they would never mention it. Only how there are little things that are wrong on your applications and paperwork, and how they just haven't had to chance to pass it on to the right person yet.

    Either way, it was certainly flourishing. Just about every client visit where the "ISP/Internet Cafe" that had a satellite, there were VOIP gateways terminating calls.

  • VoIP in Nigeria (Score:3, Informative)

    by heironymouscoward ( 683461 ) <> on Sunday July 06, 2003 @04:36AM (#6376108) Journal
    I spent several months working in Nigeria from 1999-2001. My client, a large business, had installed expensive VSAT links to its six or seven locations around the country - Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, etc. The satellite links provided a data channel (128kpbs, I think) and two voice channels. But what people really used the network for was VoIP, since the normal Nytel phone lines are so bad. People would find a pair of loudspeakers, a microphone, Netmeeting, and then shout at their PCs all day long. Very funny.
  • I've spent some time in Rwanda. EVERYONE has a cellphone, at least in the cities. MTN RwandaCell seems to be a very profitable business there. Normal phone service is there, but I've heard that you can wait a while to get connected. I've also heard that a "normal" phone line is cheaper. VOIP is illegal; it'd cut into Rwanda Telecom too deep. But, that attitude is changing, as even some of the government Ministries seem to be using it. Rwanda IT people are VERY chafed that some outsider owns the .rw domain

  • "Hello?"
    I am sorry for the embarrassment this phone call might cause you as we have not had any correspondence before this phone call. I got your address through my nephew with Nigerian Military Chamber of Commerce industry and Mining during my research for a reliable and trustworthy partner who l can do business with though l did not disclose the nature of the business l intend to do with whoever he recommend for me... "

System checkpoint complete.