VoIP in the European air!

VoIP momentum is shifting within Europe with Eastern Europe coming in strong now. The new set of initiatives is driven by the Wimax service providers. There are over 40 Wimax service providers in Eastern Europe if you count the Baltic states as well. Nearly half of them have either launched a VoIP offering or are involved in such trials. (There is a partial list at the end of this post).

The present VoIP traction in Eastern Europe is different than what we saw two years back. Two years back it was all about the network upgradation of the incumbent telcos there. This time it is a bit different. The alternative carriers are going for the broadband telephony type option. Wimax operators seem to be the driving force right now. 

Regulators in Eastern Europe are promoting Wimax in order to force incumbent operators to speed up their wholesale DSL offerings which in turn would drive broadband and the associated over-the-top services. Wimax licenses have typically been auctioned to new entrants as well as the established cell operators. Larger operators are being included to ensure better investment in Wimax projects. In Western Europe the regulators tend to reserve regional licenses for regional players, with national licenses going to established cell operators.

Wimax is also a vehicle for the established competitors to achieve a multi-service offering. In Romania, for example, Orange a cell operator looking to have a convergence play has so far been unable to make much progress due to the lack of required agreements with the incumbent operator Romtelecom. Orange in Romania now has its eyes set on Wimax license (Wimax licenses in Romania are expected this year).

However it is the new Wimax entrants in Eastern Europe that are aggressively exploring VoIP and are likely to drive it forward over the next few years.

The fundamental reason why VoIP-over-Wimax is a key trend in Eastern Europe is because the fixed infrastructure is not great. Wireless penetration has historically been higher. Wireless technologies such as Wimax in this context could also have advantages in terms of broadband delivery.

Some of the Wimax operators that have launched or are trialling VoIP-over-Wimax in Eastern Europe: Max Telecom (Bulgaria), TransTelecom (Russia, Bulgaria), Netia (Poland), MNI Telecom (Poland), Nexcom (Bulgaria), Norby Telecom (Estonia), PAN Telecom (Ukraine), Telecentrs (Latvia), WiMax Telecom (Croatia), APEK (Slovenia) etc.

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