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.
Africa gets broadband boost
ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.
Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.
ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.
At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”
Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”
ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.
Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.
AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.
The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.
‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”
The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.
‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.
The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”