Helping corporate SA save money on its phone bills, means more revenue for Vox Telecom

EVERY YEAR for the past few years, Vox Telecom`s executive chairman and seasoned mountaineer leads a team of employees and managers on a mountaineering expedition of sorts.

After a successful expedition to Tanzania to climb Mount Meru (4 556m) and Kilimanjaro (5 895m) in 2007, he says he decided to up the ante and take the team on something more challenging.

So, in June last year, Van Marken and the Vox team headed for Ecuador, where over a period of 12 days they climbed the five highest volcanoes including Ecuador`s three highest: Chimborazo (6 310m), Cotopaxi (5 897m) and Cayambe (5 790m).

This year, in August, the Vox team is headed for the snowcapped volcano of Mount Agri (5 165m), also known as the biblical Mount Ararat. It is believed that Noah`s ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, in this mountain range in eastern Turkey.

Van Marken is the first to admit that mountain climbing is not for everyone  some of his colleagues can`t understand what drives him to undertake this annual challenge, when he could be sunning himself on the white sandy beach of some exotic island, cocktail in hand, instead.

"These trips do require a lot of training and planning, because you don`t want to be unfit and ill-prepared, and thus a liability to your team. It`s a lot like business really. I think what interests me most about mountain climbing is that it`s all about decision-making under pressure," he explains.


Vox Telecom has been around since 1997, when it started life as an ISP called DataPro. 2005 saw DataPro`s voice division rebranded as Vox Telecom. Several acquisitions later, including the likes of @lantic Internet Services, Bizcall, Orion Telecom and Storm Telecom, and some organic growth, and Vox Telecom is a fully fledged provider of voice and data telecoms products and services to the consumer and corporate market.

Van Marken points out that with the SA telecoms landscape experiencing further deregulation, "the opportunities will be ever greater for us".

"However, 2009 is definitely a tougher year - business conditions are tough, especially for a growing company like ourselves, as customers are tightening their belts. They`re all cutting back on capex spending and major projects, and focused on cutting cost structures rather than generating revenue, which is great for us, because it plays to our strengths: cutting costs is what we do, we are an alternative to after all.

Vox Telecom services some 18 000 companies, from SMEs to the Top 200 JSE-listed companies, government departments and municipalities, and some 150 000 consumers through  @lantic, SA`s third-largest consumer ISP.


"The term convergence is overhyped, but Vox is at a point where it can offer a customer a one-stop shop - we couldn`t do that two to three years ago," says Van Marken.

Yet, Vox Telecom has been internally focused in the last year, especially given its recent run of acquisitions. "It`s not about acquiring companies to fill gaps at the moment. It`s about getting a larger percentage of customers` phone bills," he points out.

In the current financial year, Vox Telecom will spend R50 million in capex on its data centres, network and fibre links, taking a just-in-time approach to managing its network expansion. "We`re also taking into account potential risk from relying on Eskom. We run a 24/7 operation: we can`t afford to have downtime," reminds Van Marken.

While data accounts for over 80% of its bandwidth utilisation, it only accounts for 20% of its revenue, so Vox is pursuing revenue from voice, predominantly from its enterprise market.

Tags: Telecoms