Creating healthy digital eco systems for the African continent
05 July 2017 | Harald A. Summa
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.
It has been several years since DE-CIX started activities on the African continent – at events, trade shows and customer meetings. 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 intensified our activities in Africa 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. The journey will be long, but we as DE-CIX have taken our initial steps to support the creation of a healthy digital eco system for the African continent.
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