Load shedding is killing traditional voice calls in South Africa

Load shedding is hastening the decline of traditional voice telephony in South Africa, new research has found.

According to BMIT’s latest SA Voice Services and UC&C Report, it is expected there will be a “continuing steep decline in call volumes and revenues across both the fixed and mobile voice services market”.

In August, TechCentral reported that more and more South Africans, especially those connected via fixed broadband connections, are turning to WhatsApp for calling as the mobile operators struggle with network quality amid intense load shedding by Eskom.

During power outages, WhatsApp and other voice-over-internet apps often offer superior voice quality than regulator mobile calls as users can route the call over Wi-Fi and fibre. Although there was already a move to using WhatsApp for voice calls, load shedding is accelerating the trend, experts said, and this is having a direct negative impact on voice revenues for South Africa’s mobile operators.

BMIT MD Chris Geerdts said: “Customers hardly think twice nowadays when using over-the-top (OTT) apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram to communicate individually or with a range of personal, family and business groups. Similarly, platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack have become indispensable daily tools at work.”

Bad news for the telecommunications firms is that even if load shedding were to end – or if the impact was mitigated – the “disruptive long-term trend of ongoing substitution of traditional voice calling by alternative communication styles would still remain intact”.

Fixed voice calls

“With fixed voice, the legacy PSTN (public switched telephone network) market has been in decline for over 20 years in South Africa, initially impacted by a shift from fixed to mobile usage. Next-generation voice-over-IP services have also been eroding the PSTN market, and these services are slightly more resilient to the longer-term rate of decline,” said Geerdts.

Although load shedding is accelerating the trend away from traditional voice, it’s a trend that is evident in all markets.

“The longer-term disruptive trend of a decline of origination voice traffic in South Africa mirrors the global trend,” said Geerdts. “The UK, for example, already experienced a 14% decline in fixed-line traffic and a 2% decline in mobile traffic in 2021, as reported by the UK communications regulator, Ofcom. The sub-trends include ongoing fixed-mobile substitution, and recently also a decline in mobile calling, both of which have been amplified by the acceleration in OTT voice/multimedia usage during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

By far the biggest beneficiary of this trend has been Meta Platforms-owned WhatsApp, which has seen “massive adoption” by businesses as a collaboration platform. “This underscores the disruptive impact WhatsApp is having on the traditional voice calling market.”  — © 2023 newsCentral Media