In the past three years, the worldwide growth — particularly in developed regions — of the VoIP and Unified Communications (News
) industry has been a boon to the many vendors and service providers on the communications space. Their products and services help business become more productive and efficient, while cutting communications costs, allowing them the flexibility to grow without overextending their budgets.
More recently, however, there has also been significant interest in underdeveloped markets as well, like Latin America. If you were fortunate enough to be part of ITEXPO
East in Miami this past February, you saw, in the midst of a significant global recession, a sizable increase in attendance
by businesses, many of whom focus on the Latin American market, looking to leverage the latest VoIP technologies to enhance their business operations.
One of the people who, more than seven years ago, foresaw this opportunity in Latin America is Sandra Ximena Diaz Hoyos, President and CEO of Smart Network Solutions (News
), a hosted communications provider focused on Latin America and other developing markets. I had the pleasure to interview Sandra on video
at ITEXPO (News
) in Miami and more recently on the phone, to talk about the Latin American VoIP market.
Back in 2002 when Hoyos and her co-founders —both of whom are also women — launched SNS, the saw a definite value proposition in communications technology in that it was a constantly evolving space that would allow businesses to cut superfluous expenses and increase productivity at the same time. Sandra believes the tech revolution has the potential to improve business operations for any business, from small local farmers to the largest multinational corporations.
At the time, though, VoIP was merely in its infancy, especially in Latin American, less than two percent of businesses having even partially adopted it as a communications alternative.
Thus, Smart Network Solutions
was formed to leverage this opportunity and to help promote IP Communications and drive its adoption and drive its adoption. Today, Hoyos estimates nearly half of large businesses in Latin America have adopted some form of VoIP technology, which has also seen SNS grow into a larger business, with offices in Miami, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela serving the Latin American region, as well as a European satellite office.
“It’s been absolutely revolutionary,” she said. “When we started, very few businesses had adopted
VoIP, and even large corporations were only starting to look into it.”
It wasn’t an easy road to success for Hoyos and her partners, though. Launching a start-up technology in a male-dominated industry serving a market that still today has a gender bias in the business world — especially in technology.
Access to the market was difficult, and even when they were able to get in front of business executives, they had to overcome the perception that males were better equipped to present technology solutions and introducing communications equipment and services to the market.
But, Hoyos believes they were able to leverage what was an obvious obstacle and use it to gain increased access to the market because, regardless of perception, they were becoming known in the market as the only communications company owned by three women.
Seven years later, perception is an obstacle SNS has been able to overcome, but there are other ongoing market challenges that persist, like cost of and access to high-speed broadband. It’s not as expensive as it once was, but Internet access is still relatively weak in Latin America and other underdeveloped markets, notes Hoyos. To her, carrier infrastructure is the single greatest barrier to the real explosion of VoIP and convergence technologies.
“It’s not possible for everyone to get reliable, high-speed access, like and E1,” she says.
Once infrastructure expands and improves, and as the market becomes more competitive, access costs will naturally be driven down.
In order for that to happen, the market, which is still largely protected and driven by a relatively few large operators, becomes open to competitors, broadband penetration will grow and the VoIP market will be one of the key beneficiaries. One the barriers to entry are eliminated, entrepreneurial ISPs —such as those that have found widespread success in North America and other developed markets — will quickly expand availability of services, benefitting vendors and adopters alike.
The economy is helping, says Hoyos — a comment not uncommon in the IP Communications space. While 2008 was a weaker year for the whole market, she says that the recession is forcing more businesses to look for alternative
ways to cut recurring costs. Communications is one key area businesses are targeting, which is helping providers like SNS.
Most significantly, Hoyos says companies, especially SMBs, are opting for hosted solutions, like the hosted PBX (News
), hosted gateway, and hosted contact center solutions SNS offers. It’s a way avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars on a new on-premises IP PBX or gateway by paying a only a monthly fee for outsourced services — not to mention the cost savings that VoIP is known for.
This is only the beginning, though, she hopes. Like many in this industry, she is looking at a future with true single address access to all forms of communication — true communications convergence. Her outlook, though, is a little more optimistic than many.
“Some people predict it will take 5-10 years; I don’t think it will take quite that long,” she says.
Hoyos continues to see significant opportunity in a market
she has helped grow over the past seven years, though she understands that many businesses are going to be in a holding pattern until the market improves. Still, she continues to promote research and development, and foresees a bright future for the market as a whole.
Likewise, she sees a positive change in opportunity for female executives in the market.
“It takes a lot of time and commitment, but that is the key to success anywhere,” she says, “ but it’s important to understand opportunities do exist for everyone.”
Hoyos and Smart Network Solutions will be back in Miami for ITEXPO East
, January 20-22, 2010, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Erik Linask