Six things to know about network connectivity in Africa

Since the first undersea cables began to connect Africa in the early 2000s, a network of fibre has slowly grown to surround the continent. However, what exists at the edge does not necessarily make its way to the interior and this has resulted in extremely varied internet rates and costs.

The issue of network connectivity was discussed as part of Invest in Datacentre Africa, a bespoke summit collocated within Datacloud Europe 2017, early in June. The summary below attempts to highlight the important points.

Geo-political issues always raise their ugly head. It can be hard to talk about Africa without getting lost in a minefield of mixed meanings. Sub-Saharan countries get lumped together because these are all served by the same cables. North African countries are often not included in discussions about Africa at all because they’re served by a different set of cables. And there can be tendency to ignore Francophone countries altogether and focus exclusively on English speaking ones (although, admittedly, not so much in the networking space).

Everything costs less at the door. The internet is much cheaper in the destinations where the cables land (like Nairobi and Lagos). In areas which are not a large physical distance away from the landing spot the price can hike considerably.

Networks are currently too linear. There is a real need for governments to build infrastructure to boost connectivity between countries. At present everything seems to go round the edge.

Too much traffic is routed via Europe. There is a dire need for more internet exchanges within Africa. Reid Fisher, director of Internet Service Provider (ISP) Hurricane Electric says his organisations sees “more African networks in London than Africa”.

Regulatory issues prove a challenge. In some cases countries – like Kenya – offer too many regulatory licenses. This can make it impossible for any company to get the necessary revenue from the market, suggests Chris Wood, CEO at WIOCC. Other countries, however, go entirely the opposite way. “Nobody has struck the right balance yet,” he says.

Massive capacity in the cable network. Despite connectivity issues Wood believes there is room for a lot of growth. “This is in no way going to fill up the existing cables [in their lifespan],” he says.


« News Roundup: Supercomputing, NSA joins GitHub, and Robot sumo


IDG Research: Cloud migration edges towards the halfway mark »


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?