The second day at the Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) is dedicated to plenary presentations and discussions between the technical community, private sector, and government representatives.
The discussions aim to foster understanding of the landscape the various players operate in, the challenges faced, opportunities and ways to create synergies that guarantee increased connectivity, and exchange of content within the region.
The first session of the day was the formal opening ceremony, with Yves Miezan Ezo, representative of the Conseiller Technique du Ministre de la Communicatiln, de l’Economie Numerique et de la Poste de la république de Cote d’Ivoire,
Caliste Claude M’Bayia, representative of l’ARTCI, and Moctar Yadaly, head of Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission (AUC).
In his speech, Dawit Bekele, Head of the Internet Society Africa Bureau, welcomed participants to the 8th AfPIF session, noting that great strides have been made in Africa’s technology landscape, and it will get better.
The first AfPIF session was held in 2010 by the Internet Society out of the realization that too much African Internet traffic was exchanged outside the continent, and the region could save costs by exchanging the content locally.
Dawit noted that:
- For the last decade Interconnection was the biggest focus of our activities in Africa. Since we launched the first AFPIF, we not only organized 8 such events but also had a high number of capacity building activities to increase local and regional peering in Africa. In particular, we partnered with the African Union to implement the first phases of the AXIS project which helped build the technical and organizational capacity for the development of IXPs in 30 countries around Africa. It was a great honor for the Internet Society to work with our continental organization the African Union in this highly impactful project. And we are very glad to have the steering committee of AXIS meet here in Abidjan alongside AFPIF in order to create further synergy between AXIS and AFPIF. I would encourage that you all use this opportunity to meet with the AXIS steering committee members and discuss how we can all build on the achievements of AFPIF and AXIS to reach our vision of having 80% local traffic in Africa by 2020.
- 2017 is an important year for Internet Society since we are celebrating our 25th anniversary. In 1992, a small group of Internet pioneers including Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, established the Internet Society with the vision to bring the Internet to everyone. That goal might not be reached yet but I am sure that you agree with me that we have gone a long way towards that goal. 25 years ago there was no African country that had Internet access. Today all African countries have Internet access. Internet penetration is about 28% and the growth has been considerable in the last decade. This happened thanks to the contribution of many organizations including the Internet Society. We are particularly proud of our capacity building work that the Internet Society as well as our contribution in the development of peering in Africa did in Africa.
It is also going to be a new direction for the organization of future AfPIF events; the African bureau has decided to hand over AfPIF to the African IXP community. For the last 8 years, AfPIF has become a very sustainable event in terms of participation and funding, and Bekele believes it is time to transition it to the Association of African IXPs (AfIX). The Internet Society will still continue supporting the AfIX in organizing the annual event.
The Internet Society will continue with its engagement in Africa, on issues including:
- Cyber security is becoming a major challenge for the world in general and Africa in particular
- Personal data protection is no more an issue that Africans can ignore
- Increasing number of countries are experiencing Internet Shutdowns which has become a major hurdle for the development of the Internet on the continent
- As Internet penetration increases and the number of online services increase, remote areas are getting increasingly affected from the marginalization from the digital society
- Africans are not using the full potential of their increasing access
Funke Opeke, CEO of Main One, one of the largest submarine cable operators in Nigeria, delivered the keynote speech. Her presentation explored the possibility of achieving the exchange of 80 per cent of content locally in Africa by 2020.
Currently, only 20 per cent of the content is exchanged locally in Nigeria, with 80 per cent of the people accessing the content via mobile. The Nigerian IXP is currently exchanging 31.5 Gbps with most of the capacity exchanged in Lagos.
Nigeria has 37,104 km terrestrial fiber linking various regions, but no official interconnection arrangements with neighbors such as Cameroon, Chad, Benin, and Niger. This was as a result of nonexistent or little cross border engagement, licensing and regulatory issues, and different currencies, reflective of economic realities in the continent.
Opeke was optimistic that measured regulatory intervention, increased attractiveness to regional interconnection, mobile networks exchanging content locally, sustained economic growth, and ease of doing business will lead to increased local content sharing.
Content Distribution Challenges
Netflix, CloudFlare, Facebook, and Rwanda IXP were on the last panel of the day, discussing content distribution challenges and opportunities in Africa. Netflix provides video on demand services across 190 countries and is seeking to increase its coverage in Africa. Its preferred way of sharing content is putting servers on ISP networks in various countries. From there the user can be redirected to the nearest servers.
For Netflix, Cloudflare, and Facebook, South Africa is the first country in Africa that they set up, given the advanced tech ecosystem, high traffic, and the ease with which various players share local content.
The CDNs are exploring ways to set up cache in other countries, but peering and general sharing of services has to be established in order to raise the number of users accessing the service. For instance, more networks would access a cache at an IXP and more people compared to sitting at one ISP in a country.
The case of Rwanda has been exceptional because the industry regulator is working together with the ICT industry to improve the level of ICT business in the country. For instance, to promote the content hosting business, the regulator is using the Universal Service Fund (USF) to subsidize hosting for the next four years, after which the market rates are expected to have fallen.
The cost of electricity to a data center has also fallen, because the facilities attract a different tariff, aimed at managing rising costs and improving sustainability of colocation facilities.
The ensuing discussions proved that AfPIF members need to continue engaging with regulators and educating them on some of the issues in order to make proper and progressive policy decisions.