The tech industry is constantly changing and EDWARD LAWRENCE, Director of Business Development at Workonline Communications, believes that there are huge changes in store for Africa, particularly related to the growth of the Internet.
The cutting edge nature of the tech industry means that constant change is a certainty. I do believe that the changes in store for Africa in the near future, particularly related to the development of the Internet in the region, are truly revolutionary. Here are some of the trends that I think will shape the future of the internet on the continent in the next little while.
The world is waking up to Africa
Having attended several industry related conferences across the world in recent months, in places such as Marrakech, New Zealand, California and even Hawaii, it is clear that global attitudes towards Africa as a prospective market are changing.
Generally, market entrants have been overwhelmed by the success of their expansions into Africa. Amongst these, international online giants such as Google, Microsoft, Netflix and Akamai who are peering in South Africa seem to have been very successful. This trend is set to assist in lowering the cost of Internet access for local ISPs. Instead of them having to pay to pick up content from these networks from other regions (usually Europe), they can now pick it up at internet exchanges in South Africa such NAP Africa, JINX, CINX or DINX at very low rates, or even free of charge.
South Africa’s healthy Internet exchange (IX) ecosystem is, as will hopefully be the trend with less developed markets in the region, encouraging deregulation and lowering the cost of services for end users. With the establishment of IXs, ISPs can reduce their costs and hence invest more in expanding their networks and gaining market share. Once content networks realise that they can connect with many ISPs with many end users in a single location at reasonable costs, they are encouraged to develop in the region. As this process occurs, it usually attracts further investment in the industry, draws revenue away from the incumbents, and opens the market for innovative new entrants.
Demand will increase and must be met
As more and more people connect to the Internet across the continent, the domino effect picks up pace and demand for Internet services increases. This increase in demand is coupled with high expectations from a quality and speed perspective by newcomers to the Internet (often regardless of the actual benefit of the additional speed to the user). Interestingly, we found that people living in South African metropoles often have higher expectations than people living in Europe when it comes to the quality of an internet browsing experience through their mobile network operator.
This is because quality of Internet and connectivity is a frequent discussion point here, mainly due to the poor state this market was in not so long ago. It is used as a marketing tool, and therefore front of mind for the end consumer. Consumers have been conditioned to be unhappy if they do not have superfast Internet. The demand is not as high yet in some other African countries, or more rural areas, but it is definitely developing at a rapid and steady pace.
Another interesting trend I have noticed of late is that there are very few females in the industry in sub-Saharan Africa. In North Africa, for example, attending an IPv6 training session in Tunisia, the room was filled with women, and there were very few men present. If you go to an IPv6 training session in South Africa, however, it is a rare occurrence to see a woman in attendance. I foresee a mass entry of women into the technical side of the industry in the near future as the social barriers to entry are torn down.
We see this trend manifesting in Europe, where many organisations made up of women working together have sprung up and have now garnered a lot of strength in the European tech community. We support these movements in Europe wholeheartedly, and we are currently investigating ways to recreate this trend here and elevate women’s roles in the local market.
The full value of IPv6 to be unleashed
Everything that connects to the Internet needs an Internet protocol address, a string of numbers, to do so. Before, these addresses were in an Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) format, but this format didn’t allow for enough addresses and they are coming close to exhaustion. IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet Protocol, and features a vastly expanded potential number of addresses to provide for the needs of the rapidly growing number of Internet-connected devices and services around the world. In technical terms, the existing IPv4 notation has been extended from 32 bits to 128 bits per IP address.
Workonline is in the process of setting up an advanced IPv6 workshop to be held as often as once a quarter in South Africa, to guide engineers with the deployment of IPv6 on their network, as this is a need that we have recognised within the local industry. At the moment, many engineers have had basic training or exposure to IPv6. They get their addresses assigned from their RIR, they know how it works conceptually, but then they stop. They do not actually deploy it across their access layer because they are frightened by the potential risks involved and often don’t know where to turn to get advice or share thoughts with other engineers who have successfully deployed IPv6 across various types of networks. Attending an advanced IPv6 workshop with globally recognised experts present would allow them to speak more freely and get stuck into the guts of deploying IPv6 on the whole of their networks, unleashing the benefits of this protocol.
As I write this, I’m on my way to Copenhagen to join the RIPE meeting. Workonline partnered with layer 2 Internet Exchange Point (IXP) NAPAfrica, to assist RIPE NCC to gather Internet data that will help network operators gain further visibility into the structure of the African Internet.
With 21 other RRCs at IXPs around the world, until now Africa has been the only continent without a RIPE NCC Route Collector, which means that it has largely been in the dark from the perspective of Internet measurements. The decision to host a route collector is extremely beneficial to operators in the region. The sponsorship of bandwidth for the RRC is in line with our commitment to continue developing the African Internet as a whole. Having access to this data will be beneficial to our clients and the industry, and we are excited to be part of the project.
It is important that the industry continues to look for ways to bring better Internet to the continent through strategic partnerships.
IoT’s answer for Africa
IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.
With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.
Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.
The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks
It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.
We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.
The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization
One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.
Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water. IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.
In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.
Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.
Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain
Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.
African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain frozen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s.
So its population uses Hawala; an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a central country clearing house, then onto a clearing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.
Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually become a replacement for Hawala and other existing forms of international remittances. Cryptocurrencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks.
International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, particularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.
At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging technologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and services. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s software developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.
Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infrastructure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.
We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Uplus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding platform. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.
A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of blockchain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for African communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.
Regulation can nurture or constrict the technology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Kenya, I’m proud to see how proactive the government has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself resonating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.