A new SA start-up wants to challenge the incumbent phone operators with a low-cost alternative that takes advantage of the features of modern smartphones.
NiQqui, which was launched a month ago, wants to offer smartphone users voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) calls to fixed lines and mobile numbers at significant discounts to the prices charged by the operators.
Calls to mobile phones cost 89c/minute and calls to fixed lines are 36c/minute. Calls made and messages sent to other niQqui users are free and users are assigned a phone number in the 087 dialling block, just as they would be issued with a telephone number from their cellular or fixed-line service provider.
Because the service works over data networks, it may prove particularly appealing for frequent travellers who can make or receive calls using their niQqui number while paying the same rates they would at home.
NiQqui is the consumer-arm of holding company Blackbridge, a wholesale long-distance telecoms provider. Rather than creating roaming agreements with individual international operators, companies like Blackbridge offer access to groups of telecoms companies and communication networks.
“In July last year, we decided to enter the retail sector in SA with two offerings, one targeted at businesses and the other at consumers,” says Blackbridge MD Reshaad Sha, who was previously director of strategy for emerging markets at Cisco.
Blackbridge’s corporate solution offers the same features as niQqui, along with cloud-hosted PABX solutions and full-blown unified communications for larger companies.
To use niQqui, consumers must first download the application from Google Play or the Apple App Store. A version for Windows Phone is in development and will be ready this year, while a decision must still be made about whether to develop the software for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry operating system.
Though VoIP apps such as Skype and Viber are a dime a dozen, Sha says niQqui is different in that it offers a “carrier-class service with switching capability in Boston, London and Johannesburg”. He says this allows the company to “maintain high service levels”.
Of course, quality is still largely dependent on users’ data connection quality. “The important factor is the last mile, which cannot be controlled by us. We’re still dependent on networks for quality of service.”
Although niQqui wants to attract SA users first, Sha says the service already has users in a range of countries. “Anyone can buy this service, whether they’re in SA or abroad. In the next 90 days, our international service will be launched, which will allow people to pay for the service in their local currency in more than 20 countries.”
Users get free calls and instant messages to other niQqui users and Sha says the company may in future allow users to send messages to people on different chat clients.
Aside from a R99 once-off connection fee, Niqqui costs users R9,99/month. There are no long-term contracts and users that cancel before the end of a month will be refunded their unused subscription fee on a pro rata basis.
Users can buy credit on the Web portal using credit or debit cards and PayPal will be added in the next few months. Those who refer friends to the service get a month of free use. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media