Unlimited VoIP Offers Starting to Appear in Africa

By Paul Budde
Paul Budde

VoIP has been banned across most of Africa for a long time, feared by the state-owned telcos as a way for alternative service providers to bypass them with international calls, eroding a very lucrative part of their business. At profit margins of several thousand percent in some cases, it is not surprising that unlicensed operators have sprung up all over the continent, risking huge fines, confiscation of their equipment and even jail terms.

The liberalisation of VoIP in Africa started in 2004, led by some of the continent's more forward-looking governments which introduced value-added network services (VANS) licences or even completely new service- and technology-neutral licensing regimes. These include South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana, as well as some of the more progressive North African markets: Morocco, Algeria and Egypt.

However, it is one of the more unexpected places where unlimited VoIP offers have started to appear: In Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), two of the country's leading ISPs are offering flat rates for unlimited VoIP calls to certain destinations, including North America, Europe and China. Buckets of minutes are available for calls to India, Japan and Australia.

This development is remarkable, since broadband services in general are still relatively expensive in Cote d'Ivoire.

The two ISPs, Aviso and AfNet are controlled by the country's leading fixed and mobile network operators — Cote d'Ivoire Telecom/Orange (France Telecom), and South Africa's MTN which also owns alternative fixed-line operator Arobase. The two international telecom giants are working to integrate their fixed, mobile and broadband/Internet operations in Cote d'Ivoire more closely in a bid to transform themselves into true converged service providers.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication. Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Mobile Internet, Policy & Regulation, Telecom, VoIP


IDNs Alex Tajirian  –  Dec 07, 2009 4:23 PM PDT

Does this dampen the demand for IDNs in these countries, as it is easier to talk on the phone than send email? How about reducing potential spam using IDN emails?

Rather the contrary, Alex - it is Peter Lange  –  Dec 07, 2009 11:54 PM PDT

Rather the contrary, Alex - it is another contributing factor to the rapid uptake of Internet services in general in sub-Saharan Africa that we see over the coming years, driven by new international and national fibre and wireless/3G mobile broadband access. The whole sector is still very much under-developed in the region due to poor infrastructure and high prices.

IDNs certainly a factor in French-speaking Africa, also some Portuguese, and Arabic in the North. And there is a lot of spam and Internet fraud originating in the region - IDNs may help with that.

Peter Lange
Senior Analyst Africa