All posts by Ivana Strineka Trbovic

Facebook Seeks to Increase Connectivity in Africa

By Rebecca Wanjiku

Facebook is hoping to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Vision Process to inform network roll out, enhancement and investment in connectivity in Africa.

At the Open Cellular meeting held in Nairobi on June 19th and 20th, Facebook outlined preliminary details it had been able to establish through its use of AI and satellite imaging. Satellite imagery will help map electrical grid data, which can help build micro solar grids for the organizations interested in the area.

The project, done in conjunction with Columbia University, seeks to use the massive data Facebook has to determine human settlement, population density, type of connectivity used (2G, 3G, 4G,), distance from the nearest tower, power grid and to a larger extent the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) if factors are combined and analysed. The project is being carried out in 27 countries and Kenya is among the pilot countries.

Facebook hopes to make this data available to network providers, who can use it to determine and plan for network roll out, upgrades and enhancement. It will also give a better idea on the percentage of people connected, gaps and how best to cover them. Facebook is working with the Open Street Map team to establish how far people are from the nearest coverage and integrating the data.

“Providing this kind of information and visuals will help operators in enabling network upgrades; they can know the signal strength, timing of when people use the network, if users have 4G enabled phones, which can inform infrastructure planning,” said Ashish Kelkar, Senior Director, Infrastructure Strategy and Operations Analytics, Facebook.

Disaster response is one of the areas the data might be critical; allowing humanitarian agencies to respond and provide the appropriate assistance. Facebook is working with the United Nations agencies and with the World Bank in Malawi to help in the fiber backbone project.

Facebook is collaboration partners with in testing data sets and is interested in incorporating other partners that may be interested.

Regarding Open Cellular meeting, policy makers, techies and business people gathered at the iHub Nairobi to discuss ways to invest and run businesses focussing on rural areas.

The presentations and discussions focussed on entrepreneurship, the changing face on access, building open ecosystem for rural connectivity, connectivity and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), using big data to connect the unconnected, and creating opportunities for deployment among other topics.

There was a technical track, focussing on building wireless access platform, optimized access solutions for small communities, community cellular manager and building open source power solution for rural communities. The business track explored factors affecting businesses and opportunities in rural areas, building mobile applications for a bandwidth and device constrained world, regulatory opportunities for rural areas, scaling non traditional wireless networks and rural deployment strategies among other topics.

The meeting attracted global technology players such as; Telecom Infrastructure project, GSMA, Brck, USAID, Cavium and Nuran Wireless among others.

IXP Training from France-IX

By Franck Simon, President, France- IX

Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), where networks physically meet to cost effectively exchange local traffic, are an important part of the Internet, especially for enabling local users to access a variety of content and services. However, launching and maintaining an IXP, particularly in developing countries, can be complicated and start-up groups can benefit from knowledge, experience and training passed on by those of us who have been down the road before.

France-IX is the Premier Internet Peering Service Provider in France, offering public and private interconnection services through its carrier and data center neutral exchange points in Paris and Marseille.

France-IX interconnects several hundreds of telecommunications carriers, ISPs, content providers, content delivery networks and all other Internet networks worldwide with significant traffic in the Internet French market. This enhances the affordability and latency of the Internet traffic exchanged between its members and thus improves the overall quality of the Internet in France.

Founded in June 2010 with the support of the French Internet community, France-IX is a member-based association whose core values are neutrality, sustainability and constant improvement of the Internet.

To date, France-IX has provided IXP training to five African networks including two in Guinea: SEN-IX in Senegal and, most recently, CAS-IX in Morocco. Training typically comprises a few days of theory followed by hands-on technical training that would be considered niche even in the world of telecoms. The wealth of knowledge, built up and tested over many years in the field and which can’t be found in any book, is passed on in the following training modules:

1. Identify the IXP organisation type

In EMEA, the main types of IXPs are ISP associations, not-for-profit independent organizations, carrier-neutral commercial organizations or educational/government agencies. It is also possible to be a combination of these. For example, France-IX is a combination of a non-profit association and a sole owner of a private company to run its day-to-day operations, because this is the model that works best for its sustainability.

France-IX explains the pros and cons of each choice and advises on the final decision, which will be based on a number of factors including market expectations, local requirements and regulatory constraints. For example, if you choose to be a neutral organisation, you must use neutral datacentres and POP locations so you can attract members that value neutrality. Once the choice is made, you are trained on how to organize a board of directors, acting as the executive board of the neutral organization.

2. Identify the business model

It is crucial to have a sustainable business model, so depending on the context of the local telecoms market, France-IX advises its group of trainees to survey their potential market to choose between a paid professional service or a free model. If the choice is for a free model, the IXP will then need a number of founding members who will also act as capital investors to help launch the IXP.

3. Defining services and pricing

The next step is to identify which services need to be run on day 1 of operation, these are the ones that are mandatory, along with their pricing. Then a typical product launch plan can be rolled out later when the timing is right.

Pricing doesn’t have to be the cheapest. France-IX didn’t start with the lowest prices. Instead it set price points that would enable it to provide a professional service from day 1 and planned reductions over time. When setting pricing, the main question is not “is my pricing competitive?” but “is my pricing in line with the local market expectations?” This is key to success because each country and each market is different.

When defining a pricing policy, the main recommendations are:

  1. Reflect the local market and the current expectations;
  2. Apply pricing that is fair and competitive to similar services on the market;
  3. Cover your cost, not only to deliver the service, but to maintain it in the future.

4. IXP development

A successful IXP needs to focus on three main areas of development:

  1. Infrastructure – with each new point-of-presence (POP) you need to ensure it is geographically closer to the community you want to address so as to always be reducing latency;
  2. Services – the role of an IXP is changing. It is no longer purely a technical platform that connects networks to the Internet. Today, IXPs have the opportunity to offer members benefits beyond peering so France-IX advises new IXPs to listen to their community’s needs and go further by imagining new services that might be beneficial, such as anti-DDoS and DNS;
  3. Eco-system – you need to gather the local community together, i.e. a variety of networks who have a shared interest in exchanging traffic. This is natural to carriers, mobile operators, ISPs, Content Delivery Networks, social media and digital media but applies to others also. Any company delivering its services on the Internet is a good candidate and the IXP needs to understand what the existing and future popular services in its market are in order to stay relevant. These could be in e-commerce, mobile banking, video-on-demand, etc.

5. Best practices

This part of the training covers guidelines for best practice that an IXP should follow in the following three areas:

  1. Connecting members in a professional way and the rules of your connection procedure;
  2. Managing IXP infrastructure and members globally;
  3. Monitoring services.

6. Technical training

Finally the session moves from the meeting room to the lab for technical input, which is divided into:

  1. Running and monitoring IXP infrastructure
  2. Running services
  3. Handling outages – France-IX explains how to trouble-shoot the most common types of outages, simulating real situations based on fifteen years’ experience in the field.

As the leading digital gateway to Africa and the Middle East, the training France-IX provides is an important part of its aim to support the development of Internet connectivity in North and West Africa, helping these regions open up to the global economy.

Creating healthy digital eco systems for the African continent

By Harald A. Summa, CEO, DE-CIX

It has been several years since DE-CIX got involved in AfPIF. At first, we were keen to meet the African ISP community and to learn more about the African interconnection ecosystem. We started to learn more and more how the community and its digital infrastructure works. However, we are still in the listening and learning mode. There is a lot to do together, creating healthy digital eco systems.

On the African continent today, digital eco systems are far from being considered healthy. Internet traffic accessing dynamic content travels mostly via Kenya, Nigeria, Angola or South Africa up north to content hubs in Europe, using global Internet Exchange Points like London or Frankfurt. Internet traffic accessing static content tries to access caches locally. Local traffic should stay local in a country, but sometimes this is not the case and market potential for a local Internet Exchange Point is low. There is a lack of reliable infrastructures to reach several hundred million eyeballs and local content hubs. What this means is that Internet traffic travels abroad, resulting in long routes, and latency experience of over 400 milliseconds on congested routes is a common phenomenon.

The African continent offers huge potential, with over a billion Internet users underserved – and all of them deserve healthy digital eco systems to overcome the digital divide. We have seen positive developments in several African countries, like Angola, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

We joined AfPIF to drive the development of peering & interconnection forward, sharing our more than 20 years’ experience and knowledge in operating Internet Exchange points. High latency remains an issue for African users and only a few are able to reach content locally in the sense of a European reference point, which would be less than 20 milliseconds away. Many international content providers have not yet taken the plunge to build a content hub in African countries, because of variety of investment barriers. At DE-CIX, we have invested in three new Internet Exchanges that support African developments over the last couple of years, namely in Madrid, Marseille and Palermo. All of these support the needs of international content players targeting African networks and users, too. In addition, we have been supporting local IXP initiatives like angonix.net in Angola for the last four years. Madrid, Marseille or Palermo are growing hubs for African content, offering access to various submarine cables. angonix.net creates a content hub in SADC and a future short-cut to America. Our role is as a knowledge-sharing partner: we train engineers, build the community, share our BGP and peering knowledge and show ways to grow value ads and eco systems locally.

However, any investments in infrastructure is worth nothing unless there is a usage uptake, and only the uptake creates the value. The Internet uptake is a fundamental driver of growth and social development. It is able to improve healthcare, education and many more sectors, as well as the well-being of individuals. In fact, it touches everybody’s life. Cutting down latencies is an important first step towards improving the situation. Local peering, the exchange of Internet traffic locally, is necessary to improve local access conditions and this has to be valued and cherished by ISP communities. AfPIF is the forum where we meet the African ISP community, talk about challenges and opportunities, and share our knowledge for a better Internet experience in Africa.

Save the date: AfPIF-2017 from 22 – 24 August 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

By Betel Hailu, Communications Coordinator for the African Regional Bureau, Internet Society

AfPIF-2017 from 22 – 24 August 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
 
Join us for 3 days of sharing, learning and networking at the 8th African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF)

An open and inclusive forum, AfPIF focuses on developing Internet interconnection and traffic exchange opportunities by bringing together key players – infrastructure providers, Internet service providers (ISPs), Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), content producers and providers, data center operators, policy-makers and regulators, to advance the peering ecosystem in Africa.

Why should you attend AfPIF-2017? Have a look through AfPIF-2016 website that contains the meeting report, briefs of presentations, emerging discussions, speakers and sponsors at: https://www.internetsociety.org/afpif-2016/

More information about the event will be shared in the coming weeks.

Make sure you do not miss this premier peering event in Africa!

AfPIF Day 1: Changing The Conversation

By Lia Kiessling
Senior Manager, Campaigns, Internet Society

It’s the first day of the African Peering and Interconnection Forum, or as most of the crew here call it, AfPIF.

AfPIF started six years ago and has since grown into one of the continent’s most beloved events, dedicated to bringing Africa online.

From a business point of view, it challenges the traditional Western competitive model. Instead, it shows that when companies work together, their bottom line benefits and customers get better service for less.

It’s called peering. When companies peer, they are working together for a stronger Internet.

Today AfPIF reminded people of peering’s success with the launch of a new Internet Society report focusing on local content.

The report shows new findings that demonstrate that although more people CAN log on, they’re choosing not to.

Why? We need local content in local languages.

You can download the report and listen to some of the challenges from a local app developer in Ghana on our website.

Indeed, without the first step of making the Internet available – we wouldn’t have these new insights.

If you want to follow along with AfPIF, there are still two days left and a high-quality Livestream channel!

You can also post questions and comments on social media. Tag em #AfPIF2016!

Are you in Africa and working to bring a people online? Tell us about it! 

This article was originally published on Internet Society’s Blog page.

AfPIF: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Miss It

By Dawit Bekele
Regional Bureau Director for Africa, Internet Society

For the last seven years, Africa’s technology players have gathered at the annual Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF).

It’s a rare forum that brings together the people who are at the starting point of connecting Africa.  Together they exploring ways to reduce Internet connectivity costs, and grow local and regional exchange of Internet traffic.

From businesses to service providers to policy makers, AfPIF is a diverse and dedicated community who believe that we are better together.

They WANT to enhance exchange of content at local level, and enjoy lower the cost of connectivity, lower latency, and more.

Looking Back

Over time, AfPIF has built its reputation as the premier forum for the Internet technical community, with international and local technology businesses exploring ways to connect Africa.

At the first meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in 2010, the discussions revolved around investment in more ICT infrastructure to cover more areas. Back then, Western and Eastern Africa coasts were laying fiber optics and costs of connectivity were still high. After the cables landed, the cost of connectivity was cut but, the prices still remained high compared to other regions.

Why?

One reason was most of the local traffic was in Europe or North America.

In 2010, only 10 countries had operational IXPs. People knew that if cost of connectivity was lower, then more people and businesses would get online.  This would create more local content that would encourage the development of IXPs.

AfPIF was the place to make it happen.

That first meeting was attended by over 80 participants from 20 countries.  By the time the sixth meeting happened in 2015, there were 232 participants from 57 countries. The number of remote participants grew year after year to reach 1,032 at AFPIF 2015.

It is also undeniable that in the last seven year’s customers across Africa are benefiting from a faster and more affordable Internet.

This has provided more growth and opened opportunities for businesses across the continent.

In fact, even companies like Google, Akamai, and Cloudflare, are showing increased interest in the Africa. They’re exploring partnerships with the same companies that come to AfPIF. Once there, people can fix meetings with other each other, depending on interest.

This is important since many peering agreements start with a handshake. Formal agreements follow later and in some cases, no formal agreements, but peering happens.

Peering is working together for a stronger Internet.

Watch it happen:

One of AfPIF goals is to give practical solutions to challenges by bringing people together.  For instance, an Engineer in Telecoms and Networks Mobility at Benin Telecoms SA participated in AfPIF 2014, and was able to link up with the Google team. After that, Google deployed the first cache in Benin at Benin Telecom.

The increased number of tech companies has resulted in market growth, job growth, greater competition among providers, direct access to national and international carriers, and bandwidth flexibility because of low latencies

The countries’ ability to attract global companies is a boost to the local IT sector as more data centers have come up, providing hosting services for applications, software and platforms, among other services.

Africa is at a tipping point. It now sits at the forefront of Internet expansion and the continent is positioned to help drive the future of the global Internet.  It has a chance to leapfrog technology and constraints, and to create an Internet that helps to solve local as well as global problems.

The Internet Society understands the enormous potential for the Internet in Africa, and for the Internet to define Africa’s future.

We need you to be a part of it.

If you’re not here this year, watch AfPIF on LiveStream and get in touch on Twitter.

Who would you like to get together with?

This article was originally published on Internet Society’s Blog page.

Local Content in Local Languagues Matters

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen great improvements in connectivity infrastructure and affordability in recent years. In particular, in some countries up to 90% or more of citizens have access to mobile Internet signals. In spite of this, Internet adoption is stagnating in many countries. The report “Promoting Content in Africa” poses that in order to spur growth, a greater emphasis on the demand for Internet connectivity is required. The report focusses on a number of issues which need to be addresses in order to facilitation content creation and availability, thereby improving the value of Internet connectivity to potential users in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Crucially, a greater focus on local language content is required, as many potential users do not have sufficient skills in popular online languages such as English and French, but do in local languages. Currently, there are very few websites in local languages, which leads to a vicious circle with little content creations in terms of websites, which attracts few users, which in turn is little incentive for further website content creation. When direct communication such as through social media, such as Facebook and Whatsapp, is concerned, uptake and local language usage is much greater.

National governments can fulfil a key role in stimulating local language content on the web, by leading by example and ensuring that content on government websites is also available in the recognised official local languages.

Additionally, monetisation of content is currently a severely limiting factor. There are significant barriers on the payments side, which prevent users from purchasing content. However, there are even greater barriers on the payout side, which prevent content creators from effectively monetising their content. This last limitation also applies to monetisation of content through advertising. In addition to this, advertising is hindered by a very limited support of local languages, which means that local language pages cannot be monetised.

Find out more about what you can do to promote local content.

This article was originally published on Internet Society’s Blog page.

Content Infrastructure: The new bottleneck

By Michael Kende
Chief Economist, Internet Society

While access to the Internet used to be the critical bottleneck in many emerging countries, the mobile Internet has changed all of that. Just as mobile telephony quickly leap-frogged fixed telephony in almost every country, the mobile Internet is now the main form of access for most users. Today, with some countries having 90% availability of mobile Internet, but with adoption far below that level, we see clearly that Internet access is a means to an end, and that end is Internet content. Our new report, “Promoting Content in Africa” shows that content is king for increasing demand for Internet adoption and usage. Content must not just be locally relevant, a point noted here but it must be locally available.

As we have shown in a recent study in Rwanda, most content relevant to local needs, including both international as well as locally developed content, is hosted abroad, in Europe or even the US. This increases costs and decreases use. First, ISPs bear a significant cost in bringing the content back into the country each time it is requested over expensive international links. Second, the time to load a page from overseas is longer and less predictable and, as most of us know, the slower a website the less likely we are to continue.

As a result, content infrastructure is needed to host and deliver the content locally. This includes data centres to hold the content and provide access to local connections; hosting providers or content delivery networks to host the content in the data centre; and an Internet exchange point to provide efficient connections to the ISPs and their end-user customers. Having content hosted in a local data centre and delivered through a local IXP increases the speed of downloads significantly, which is noticeable to users and in our experience may quickly double usage.

The Internet Society has long played a role in helping to promote the development of IXPs, which are a critical piece of infrastructure for content delivery. With this paper, we go further and discuss the steps that policymakers can take to remove roadblocks and promote a local content infrastructure, in order to increase local demand for Internet content and help to create a local market for content developers, another step in the path towards creating vibrant and sustainable Internet ecosystems in every country.  

This article was originally published on Internet Society’s Blog page.

AMS-IX & AfPIF: A Partnership for Progress

By Onno Bos
Sales Director, AMS-IX

Since SEACOM landed its 15,000-km fibre-optic connection in Mombasa in 2009, international bandwidth in Africa has increased 20-fold. At the same time, terrestrial infrastructure on the continent has doubled. Together, it has brought dramatic improvements for the African Internet community[1].

But much remains to be done, particularly in the areas of national backbones and cross-border connectivity. And AMS-IX remains committed to contribute to the Internet ecosystem in Africa and across the planet. That’s why we’re once again proud to be a Gold Sponsor of AfPIF as it returns to East Africa, where it all began back in 2010. The forum has a close relationship to our industry and is a perfect place for us to connect with the right audience.

A spirit of cooperation

Today, much of the content accessed in Africa is still hosted outside the continent, slowing down traffic and growth. Investments in open Internet Exchanges and data centres will be required to boost performance for end-users and businesses. AfPIF is a critical meeting point and catalyst, where key players can build the partnerships that will allow Africa to realize its full Internet potential.

Collaboration, a hands-on attitude, and a bottom-up approach are at the heart of the Internet’s technical functioning. To achieve our full potential, we need to bring end-to-end connectivity to everyone. We’re pleased to be able to help developing exchanges in Africa, like the Internet Exchange of Nigeria (IXPN), through equipment donations in cooperation with RIPE, as well as training programs for engineers at our Amsterdam headquarters.

At AMS-IX, we always look forward to AfPIF with great anticipation. It’s our best opportunity to meet with and gain insight from the African peering community and share our own knowledge of building and running an effective IXP. As an active supporter of AfPIF from day one, we’ve been a proud sponsor every year since the first forum in Nairobi. We’re with you for the long run and look forward to seeing you all again in Dar es Salaam!


[1] Source: Internet development and Internet governance in Africa

Why more is better when it comes to subsea cables and Africa

By Ben Roberts, Liquid Telecom

Between 2009 and 2012, seven major subsea cables were deployed along the east and west coasts of Africa, bringing an abundance of international connectivity to the continent for the first time.

An estimated $3 billion poured into the construction of these undersea networks, which have played an important role in developing Africa’s internet ecosystem.

Today, most of these cables are less than 7 years old – to add some perspective, the average lifespan of a subsea cable is 25 years – and not all of their capacity has been lit.

Meanwhile, a new generation of subsea cables are making their way to Africa.

Earlier in the year, Liquid Telecom announced its first subsea cable project, called Liquid Sea, which will run the length of Africa’s east coast with onwards connectivity to Europe.

We are not alone in this endeavor – other projects in the pipeline include the Djibouti-Africa Regional Express (DARE), as well as the consortium backed Africa-1 and O2Cs. There is even a proposed project to connect Africa to Latin America with a subsea cable link for the first time; the South Africa Cable System (SACS).

This has prompted cynicism from some industry leaders and market watchers, who suggest that all these new systems are unnecessary.

Africa’s phenomenal demand for internet access suggests otherwise – and efforts are currently underway to ensure that 80% of all African internet content is being served from Africa.

Here are six reasons why more subsea cables are beneficial to the market and the continent as a whole:

1)         Connecting the unconnected: Not all African countries were connected by the first wave of subsea cables. Some countries such as Eritrea and Somaliland were overlooked, while there is fresh demand for access to cables from other nations – for example, northern Mozambique requires reliable high-speed internet to support the rise of new oil and gas reserves.

2)         Greater diversity: At the moment, there are a limited number of African landing stations where the major subsea cable systems interconnect, and traffic is sent onwards to Europe and Asia. This enables certain companies to act as ‘gatekeepers’ and charge excessive cross-connect fees, which in some cases can be about 50% of the total cost of bandwidth sold in Africa – just for provisioning a 30 metre piece of fibre optic cable to a landing station. New cables bring diversity and increase choice so that traffic can be switched to the best location, as well as avoid excessive fees.

3)         Increasing competition: More subsea cables and landing stations will bring greater competition and geographic redundancy. Countries such as the Seychelles are currently reliant on one single subsea cable, with satellite as the only back-up. Elsewhere, countries reliant on one landing station owned by one company will always suffer from high bandwidth pricing. Two landing stations will help improve resiliency and pricing, but four or five landing stations will really start to drive pricing down as well as improve reliability.

4)         New players in the market: There’s been dramatic changes in the market since the South Atlantic-3 was built in the early 2000s by a consortium of copper network and fixed-line operators. Today’s telecoms ecosystem is much more diverse and features many more players (including OTTs), which were unrepresented in the first wave of subsea cable systems. These new players require capacity and are investing in new systems accordingly.

5)         Advancements in technology: Technology is advancing all the time, but many of the older cable systems operate using SDH-based networks, with repeater spacing and fibre types that prevent upgrades. More modern systems can upgrade using 100G wavelengths, but new systems can leverage this mega capacity technology from day one.

6)         Keeping engineers in a job: The world has to keep building new cables in order to keep grey-haired engineers employed. Actually, they should hold off retirement just yet as the subsea cable industry is enjoying a major renaissance at the moment. We’ve seen lots of investment worldwide in new projects, and competition is heating up between vendors. In fact, many of them are offering great prices and many projects are also receiving government funding. There’s perhaps never been a better time to be a consultant or an engineer.