Although the issue of value-added network service (VANS) licences remains in the regulator's hands, some players are nonetheless ready to capitalise on the deregulation that will come into effect at the start of next month.

Internet Solutions (IS), a VANS player, claims it will be ready to begin delivering voice services as of 1 February.

“We have come a long way since 1993, when we were a pure Internet service provider, and we will be a voice provider too, as of next week, thanks to a project we call VOIS – voice over Internet Solutions,” says Hillel Shrock, IS's executive for new business development.

“IS will be ready to offer services immediately, although we have nonetheless taken a long-term view and are hoping to play a role in changing a market that has historically been dominated by the monopoly.”

Schrock says although there is still a lot of uncertainty over a number of issues, IS has built a business plan for VOIS that takes into account a number of possible outcomes in regard to the pending regulatory issues such as interconnection, the numbering plan and self-provisioning of facilities.

According to the company's COO, Johann Pretorius, IS feels like it's been given a brand new box of toys. “Now we are really looking forward to playing with it,” he says.

“We are investing some R30 million over the next eight months in voice platforms, as well as a total of R100 million in voice call management and R40 million in a new billing engine over the next 24 months, so that shows our dedication to the task at hand,” he says.

Greg Hatfield, VOIS product manager, says while IS will offer services from 1 February, it will not be an all-encompassing ‘bells and whistles' launch, rather the company will focus on an incremental development, allowing IS to change and grow as the industry itself does.

“We will begin offering certain services immediately though, such as international inbound calls for the contact centre market based in SA, inter branch voice traffic for large corporates and outbound enterprise voice traffic, which will be available to all 4 000 of our corporate clients.”

He says the organisation has interim plans for national voice calls in the absence of interconnect agreements, but these will fall away the moment such agreements come into play.

“We are looking at other elements to VOIS too, such as the VOIS Community, which will allow our clients to talk to one another over IS's voice network, and VOIS Community Plus, which could see us partner with other VANS providers to arrange our own interconnect agreements within the VANS community.

“The final step will be VOIS Unlimited, which will occur when we do have interconnect agreements with the other voice operators and can then run any calls for our customers over the IS network.”

According to Schrock, IS believes it is capable of providing real competition in the voice market.

“We have traditionally punched above our weight, so we are quite prepared to fight for our share of what will be a very dynamic market,” he says.

“However, we do not have any intention of replicating Telkom in terms of the voice services we provide, rather we feel that in a converging world we can bring new and innovative solutions to the market.”