Global Conferencing Challenges: Why It Can't Be the Same Everywhere

In extending conferencing services into emerging regions, enterprises are likely to face regulatory and technological infrastructure differences between countries that can make even basic conferencing a complicated endeavor.

Channel Partners

March 11, 2013

7 Min Read
Global Conferencing Challenges: Why It Can't Be the Same Everywhere

By Rob Bellmar

The global market for audio conferencing will hit $5.5 billion in 2015, up from $5 billion in 2010. Much of that growth will come from emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and Central and South America, each of which is projected to rise at a minimum compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4 percent, while certain regions will hit a torrid 8 percent growth rate. Some of that emerging market growth will come from organic, domestic usage, but much of it will come from multinational corporations extending their conferencing reach into the various regions in which they operate.

Extending conferencing services into emerging regions requires enterprises to recognize the issues they are likely to face. Regulatory and technological infrastructure differences between countries can make even basic conferencing a complicated endeavor. A rapid uptick in usage of mobile devices will challenge enterprises ability to provide easy, toll-free conferencing around the world. Operating in regions more susceptible to fraud makes security a concern that companies will need to plan for before they roll out any conferencing services. It will demand constant monitoring to provide peace of mind going forward. Selecting a partner that understands all of these issues and can help companies navigate the tricky waters of multinational conferencing will make life much simpler and allow them to better focus on their core business.

Considerations for Customers

Companies in developed regions such as North America and Western Europe often assume their experiences are universal and that doing business in other regions is the same as at home. Because audio conferencing is relatively simple and hassle-free to set up and to use in their home countries, companies often expect the same state of affairs to occur in emerging market countries. This fallacious reasoning can easily set companies up for failure when they actually attempt to extend their conferencing services to new countries.

Although it sounds simplistic, companies need to be reminded that countries such as Brazil, Pakistan  and Sierra Leone do not have the same infrastructure, the same regulations and the same levels of security as developed countries such as the U.S. or France. Only when companies recognize the scale of the difficulties they are likely to encounter can they then begin to properly plan, assess their own capabilities and decide on the best course of action.

To construct a stable, multinational audio conferencing facility, a company would need to unravel the tangled skein of regulations from every country in which calls might originate. It would need to evaluate the capabilities of multiple carriers and then create relationships with all of those required to provide the necessary coverage. It would also need to establish a fraud identification and prevention system.

In most cases, the efforts required to accomplish all of these tasks would easily exhaust the resources of even large companies.  Companies would make much better use of their time and money by working with a third-party conferencing services provider that has already done all the groundwork to facilitate conferencing around the globe, and that can help fight potential fraud. Such a relationship will allow companies to focus their internal resources on their primary business activities.

Regions and Countries Differ Greatly and Have Restrictions and Limitations

Most companies are very comfortable working within the stable and mature telecom industry of North America (the U.S. and Canada). This stability is a result of many years of consistent investment in the telecom infrastructure, a consistent regulatory environment and a standard numbering plan (the North American Numbering Plan). This allows carriers and conferencing vendors to provide high-quality services and interconnection between incumbent telecom carriers and the many competitive providers. Wireline and wireless operators provide services that allow roaming and numbering plans that enable national coverage and interconnection. This environment provides a very consistent platform for conferencing services, and many enterprises have developed homegrown or internally developed conferencing systems that can be implemented with relatively little complexity within North America. Many other enterprises have turned to conferencing services providers, looking to tap into their expertise and their already built-out infrastructure.

To enable global service coverage, however, the complexity is greatly increased. Some regions and countries lack numbering plan interconnection, roaming and stability. With many countries still maintaining government ownership of the incumbent telecom provider, and some still maintaining a monopoly in the telecom environment, some services are either not available or extremely costly. In some countries, mobile network operators do not provide interconnection with the wireline operator. In other countries, including China and Japan, the government has split the market between two wireline incumbents, each with a monopoly in its own region.

Regulatory environments can vary tremendously from country to country, and can change with little notice. Attempting to keep track of all the permutations and interactions between regulations can be exasperating.

In the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), which include the three highest growth markets, there are situations where IP traffic cannot be mixed with TDM traffic for conferencing services. In India there are also many cases where the mobile operators are not interconnected, creating situations where mobile customers cannot call each other or connect to conferencing resources. This lack of interconnection is a problem in many emerging countries. Furthermore, the regulation of conferencing services can be ill-defined or vague, allowing for liberal interpretation and often resulting in gray” situations, in which interconnection or carrier coverage can be very difficult.

One challenge to the implementation of global conferencing services is the constant change of regulation and policy in many countries outside the U.S. One example of this is the switch from 11- to 12-digit phone numbers in Germany. In India, meanwhile, the government may mandate that the carriers interconnect with each other and then subsequently issue orders to prohibit interconnecting with certain mobile operators.

For enterprises, change management can include issues around increased tax liability, local phone number availability, toll-free services and voice termination/origination. These challenges can have a major impact on companies basic conferencing service capabilities.

It often seems that just when enterprises start to understand the different regulatory environments and complete major deployments, the rules change and require last-minute changes or modifications to support basic conferencing services. The effort required to understand the regulations can be much smaller than the effort to keep up with the changes in emerging countries such as India, China, and Brazil.

The Challenge of Keeping Up to Date in the Middle East

Many of the issues mentioned above are present in the Middle East. Some countries in the region do not allow VoIP services. In others, enterprises cannot mix the IP and TDM networks. This requires the duplication of infrastructure or the use of gray” gateway vendors to connect the two technologies and networks. In some countries, foreign companies and providers cannot get local phone numbers, while in others phone numbers may be restricted to only wireline service or only mobile services.

At the same time, the propensity of regulation to change adds to the complexity of operating in this region. Incumbent providers often have the authority to develop and implement changes at their own discretion, and when these operators are the exclusive mobile or wireline carriers, enterprises are unable to avoid their restrictive policies. All the major challenges of providing reliable conferencing services are present in the Middle East and must be faced by enterprise customers expanding their presence in the region.

Partner for Safety, Sanity and Effective Communications

Enterprises clearly know best how they will use conferencing services and how such services can act as transformative tools for building a collaborative culture. But enterprises would be wise to recognize the need for expertise when it comes to designing, securing and operating such services. Attempting to navigate the tricky waters of interoperability between operators, securing conferencing services against fraud and other security intrusions and optimizing for the ideal level of capacity could easily consume an enterprises IT department to the point that it negatively impacted that enterprises core business functions. Therefore, enterprises should be seeking out partners qualified to handle the complexity of multinational conferencing and that can truly allow them to focus on excelling in their main business.

Rob Bellmar is senior vice president of conferencing and collaboration at InterCall, a subsidiary of West Corporation. He can be reached at [email protected].

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