In 2007, Google entered the Sub Saharan market. At that time, it looked like a risky move, given that Africa was still grappling with expensive satellite connectivity and efforts to lay fiber optic cables were underway. To some, Africa looked a long way from affordable connectivity while others saw it as just ripe.
By 2010, fiber optic cables had landed and connectivity costs were beginning to fall considerably. That year, Google supported the first Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF).
Mike Blanche was part of the Google team that was in Nairobi, talking about Google and its efforts in Africa. We asked him three questions:
1. AfPIF: Google has supported AfPIF for the last five years, how has the peering and interconnection landscape changed?
Five years ago, the modern high-capacity submarine cables that link Africa to the world were in the process of being laid, and the challenge was to develop demand for Internet services, terrestrial infrastructure and local interconnection points.
Now, we are seeing successful regional interconnection happening within Southern and Eastern Africa, with an increasing proportion of African traffic staying “local”. Lack of infrastructure and competition is still an issue in places, but the main challenge now is replicating the success stories to all corners of the continent, so everyone can benefit from fast, inexpensive, reliable Internet access.
2. International companies have different perceptions when dealing with Africa, what are some of the lessons learnt?
Google was one of the first international companies to invest in infrastructure in Africa, and over the years we’ve seen more international operators attend AfPIF and learn about the fast-developing African internet ecosystem. I think we have all learnt that Africa is a diverse set of different opportunities and challenges, and each country requires a slightly different approach.
3. I know the GGC is not openly spoken about, but how has AfPIF participation affected Googles entry into African countries? (I spoke to a techie from Benin who told me that speaking to Google team at AfPIF helped understand what is needed and probably sped up the process. I am looking at instances where Google maybe entered a country out of their initiative.)
AfPIF provides great value for Google, bringing together in one place those focussed on developing Internet connectivity and interconnection. AfPIF has helped to build a community of people who are building the fabric of the Internet across Africa.
Without the contacts made and relationships forged at AfPIF, we would not have been able to extend Google infrastructure across Africa.