~ Archive for AfrISPA ~

Africa is already connected NOT by Facebook and Google

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In the midst of the pandemic, Facebook (and partners) announced 2Africa a new subsea cable. About the same time last year, Google also announced a subsea cable called Equaino. It looks like they are trying to save Africa, but this is the problem – we have way too much capacity on the beach and not enough inland to connect to the wireless and cellphone networks to drive broadband to the masses. What Africa NEEDS today is terrestrial fiber to drive the existing subsea cable capacity inland to improve the broadband capacity of the wireless and cellphone networks. The diagrams below by Steve Song under the auspices of Many Possibilities gives you a historical account of Africa been connected to the world by subsea cables since 2001 through SAT3 – a consortium of majority Africa owned telecom operators. As per the second diagram Google and Facebook are building the 19th and 20th cables which would be live in Q4 2021 and Q4 2023 respectively. Hence Facebook and Google cannot be connecting Africa to the world in 2020 – at best their two new cables could serve as redundancy to the existing ones as well as provide capacity in the future.

In 2001, SAT3 and all other subsea cables were built through a club consortium which meant if you did not belong to the club you could not play. The club consortiums then set a high price tag for their fiber because they had a monopoly in the markets. In 2004 I started a movement under the auspices of the Ghana Internet Service Providers Association (GISPA) and Africa Internet Service Providers Association (AfrISPA) both of which I co-founded to dismantle these consortiums and monopolies with the intent to drive down the price of connectivity to make broadband more accessible and affordable. Our first victory was in November 2004 when GISPA signed an agreement with Ghana Telecom to reduce the cost of SAT3 by 1/3. GISPA then led the establishment of the Ghana Internet eXchange (GIX) to keep local Internet traffic in Ghana. AfrISPA members followed the GISPA lead and started negotiating for cheaper prices as well as building their local internet exchanges to keep Internet traffic within their countries.

In 2005, Russell Southwood, Anders Comstedt and I wrote “Open Access Models: Options for Improving backbone access in developing countries” for the WorldBank in which we presented an alternative approach to club consortiums and monopolies for the development of fiber networks. I followed this up in 2006 by writing one of two missives that made the case for “Open Access” communications infrastructure in Africa. Come 2007 I got invited by Dr. Bitange Ndemo to join the founding team that launch The East Africa Marine System (TEAMS) based on the open access model we had developed – a first in East Africa with Kenya as the nexus. 2009 saw the arrivals of the TEAMS and SEACOM cables which had Convergence Partners as one of it’s investors led by Andile Ngcaba who also led the launch of Africa’s first Dawn Satellite – by 2013 ten more subsea cables went live. According to Paul Hamilton of African Bandwidth Maps, Africa’s total subsea design capacity at 2018 was 226.461 Tbps with the sold international bandwidth at 10.962 Tbps, including subsea capacity at 10.470 Tbps and terrestrial cross-border capacity to submarine cables at 479 Gbps so the real challenge today is how to increase this terrestrial capacity.

As per the map above we have 18 cables with Google building the 19th and Facebook the 20th so the economic impact of subsea cables which Facebook funded RTI International to undertake should be attributing the impact to the existing cables and not the ones that are not yet in existence. Gillian Marcelle, PhD, Managing Member of Resilience Capital Ventures LLC who has had several decades of facilitating and mobilizing capital for the digital economy has this to say: “tackling connectivity across the continent and mobilizing positive economic and social outcomes must draw on indigenous expertise. The the days for us Africans waiting for a savior are LONG gone.” Based on her extensive investigations of African telecoms and tech industries, she went on to admonish recent efforts that render African knowledge and expertise invisible. She further added that there is considerable global and regional scholarly work that already goes much further than simple correlations between GDP, economic output and investments in connectivity enhancing projects. When asked about her key recommendations, Dr Marcelle offered this view: “Many advocates including those active in the global caucuses and multistskeholder partnerships have established conclusively that it is necessary to understand patterns of inequity and exclusion that arise from bottlenecks and blindspots. What is required now are smart and authentic partnerships that build on the foundation laid to produce tremendous positive outcomes. In Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa there are ecosystems with components and actors to make good on this promise.”

What Africa NEEDS today is terrestrial fiber to drive the existing subsea cable capacity inland to improve the broadband capacity of the wireless and cellphone networks. The problem they should be solving is not bandwidth to the beaches, but bandwidth to the Savannahs and jungles. Liquid Telecom which is part of the Econet Group owned by Strive Masiyiwa has been in the forefront of building terrestrial cross-border fiber networks across the continent – they have the most extensive network from Cape Town to Cairo but yet to cover West Africa as per the map below. We need three or four more of such networks to not only increase the capacity but provide competition to drive down the price of cross-border bandwidth. CSquared which counts Google as one of its investors is building metro fibers in Ghana, Liberia, and Uganda. Others like Wannachi Group in Kenya, DFA in South Africa, Smartnet in Zambia, Spectrum Fiber in Ghana, Phase3 Telecom in Nigeria, etc and in some cases the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are also building metro and national fiber networks.

We are also seeing the growth of data centers to host the applications being developed by digital innovators that drive consumption of the bandwidth being built. The African Internet eXchange System (AXIS) which was founded by AfrISPA and implemented by the AU is growing the Internet fabric by increasing the routing of local traffic on the continent. In Ghana the Internet Clearing House (ICH) by Afriwave Telecom is created the framework for deploying local value-added services that the government and other institutions can take advantage of – this would drive the growth of local content. As we know “content is king” so as we develop more localized African content that is hosted in the data centers and networks on the continent, we would need less and less international bandwidth. Hence my argument that Africa does not need additional subsea cables but rather more terrestrial fiber to improve the existing capacity whiles driving prices down to offer an amazing broadband experience.

$23M of Angel Fair Africa deals after 7 years

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On the 5th of November 2020, the 8th Angel Fair Africa will be virtual instead of in Dakar, Senegal due to the global pandemic. $23M of deals have happened over the last seven events which brought selected entrepreneurs to pitch to a room of angel investors whose primary intent was to DO DEALS. In April last year, Connected Med who was in our 2016 cohort was bought by the pharmaceutical giant Merck – the first exit by any company that has participated in our event. The events have also resulted in numerous joint ventures, trade, sales, mentorship, relationships and other deals that we not have even recorded.

In September 2013 when we launched the event in South Africa my friend Russell Southwood, editor of Balancing Act Africa wrote the most amazing headline – “Angels Over Johannesburg – South Africa hosts the first Pan-African event to introduce ICT entrepreneurs to angel investors” and seven years later the “Angels Are Virtual – doing deals in an online environment” is most like going to be the new normal if this experiment succeeds. Back then there was no event on the continent similar to Shark Tank in the US or Dragon’s Den in the UK so together with Jamie Clyde, my then business partner we approached Ross Douglas and Cobi Labuscagne of Art Logic who were the organizers of the annual Joburg Art Fair to stage the first annual Angel Fair as an opener to their event at the Sandton Convention Centre on 25th September 2013. Two deals happened at that event after twenty-four entrepreneurs pitched to a room of about eighty-eight investors.

Prior to that I had started Angel Africa List with Andile Ngcaba of Convergence Partners and a group of entrepreneurs who pitched to us at a lunch round table in the Eastern Cape at a WorldBank Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship where we spoke in May 2013 – that is how Angel Africa List the first Angel Network in Africa was started. A year after this Andile Ngcaba founded the Cortex Hub – an incubator/accelerator in East London.

The first event was so successful that in 2014 we were approached by the Africa Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (AVCA) to co-locate our event with theirs in Lagos, Nigeria. Dotun Sulaiman who is now the chairman of the Lagos Angel Network (LAN) was at our event in Joburg and so when I told him about the opportunity to bring our event to Nigeria, he indicated that LAN would like to be our local partner and so I started working with him and Tomi Davies who was then the founding CEO of LAN. LAN made its first investment in Autobox and Hutbay who had pitched at the event.

In 2015 we brought the event to Accra, Ghana during which three deals were announced – I wrote a medium post to elaborate on all the events and why we took it beyond the KINGS countries. In 2016 when we took the event to Nairobi, Kenya, we introduced our first all-female investors panel, this year we are adding an all-female entrepreneurs’ panel to showcase the growth of gender diversity in the ecosystem over the years. For the first time, we are also going to have a 70/30 majority female pitch – who participated in our first Africa Virtual Accelerator @ https://www.africavirtualaccelerator.com. This rise in gender participation is a clear representation of the potential of women in the African entrepreneurship and investment ecosystem over the next decade.

The acquisition of Paystack by Stripe for over $200M last month has generated considerable interest in the Africa startup scene. As it crowned a series of notable mergers and acquisitions that gained momentum during the pandemic that are bringing home the realization that the ten-year cycle for African tech ventures have come full circle in 2020. Hence, we would be seeing more of such deals to encapsulate the maturity of the sector. This gives a healthy backdrop evidenced by the fifty-five international investors that have signed up for our event this year – partly because it is virtual, so they won’t have to fly into Senegal which was supposed to be the physical location. Last year in Tanzania we could not find enough candidates for the our “Exits Panel” but a year later we suddenly have too many – may be this is the sign of abundance going forward given that scarcity of exits has been the bane of the industry.

State of IXPs/ISPAs and RXP in Africa

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It is important for us to establish the principle of technological good and that is, the network laying and architecture of a regional ixp builds on national ixps and the national ixps are made up of local isps and network operators. As AfrISPA we have consulted widely within the technical, social and policy community over 5 years and the consensus is to move in this framework so am sorry we cannot do contrary. We have communicated this position extensively to the regional organs as well as the donor community and those interested in helping with this exercise.

We have followed that sermon with practical steps which over the last 3 years has being supported by the multi-donor CATIA programme lead by DFID to help isps in countries for form ispas and ixps with collaboration from government and regulatory policy bodies. We have done this with extensive collaboration of other regional institutions like AfNOG www.afnog.org), AfriNIC  www.afrinic.net) and other international partners like Cisco, NSRC etc (forgive me if i cant mention all of them). Today, there are 15 ixps on the content and we expect 10 more by the close of 2006 and hopefully a doubling of the total number by the end of 2007.

In 2002, there where 6 ixps in Africa and when we agreed on the above layout of how to proceed with the engineering of the African Internet Infrastructure we got support from IDRC to develop a concept paper on same then we proceeded after long long delays to develop the ungana free software application which is currently being inserted into the current ixps so that we can know the “exact” traffic on isps, ixps network in order to make a proper estimation for the regional ixp (rxp) which we call the Pan African Virtual Internet eXchange (PARVIX). PARVIX is based on a satellite interconnection platform now because of the lack of fiber to all the relevant ixps. We have however requested fiber to be used where it is available since the growth of fiber links on the continent is gaining speed. We have also made room for the use of microwave links where possible to connect the various ixps. In the long term fiber is it with satellite and microwave for redundancy. We have being actively supporting the building of fiber networks in an Open Access manner for this same purpose.

Please permit me to acknowledge the awesome response of EARPTO to this regional vision by their move to connect the Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda ixps through an RFP which seeks to empower a regional carrier in the process and this has being with direct collaboration where our various ispas in the countries are involved and our GM is part of the technical working group.

We are complimenting each other so once this happens then we use whatever resource we have for other ixps. Our 2003 EoI had two entities selected to establish a regional carrier to provide the service. We are currently in consulting with a third entity which responded later due to several delays but that does not close the options – we are ever open to anyone who wants to fit in this vision and workout the framework of how to build the African Internet Infrastructure and your constituency is no exception.

I was in lagos last three weeks and met with the Secretary General of WATRA and she was of the view that WATRA is in the process of following suit with the EARTPO example especially because they have just established the harmonization policy framework which is an essential pre-requisite to get things done. AfrISPA is set on that collaboration because we have a growing consensus in West Africa and with the collaboration of ECOWAS and UOEMA we are set to live up to it.

Having established the general operating principles and framework as well as what is going on, let me finally respond to the issue of “The Regulatory body has contacted your institution to conduct a study and finalize arrangements for the establishment of the Regional IXP. I think they did not get any response from your firm (I think the request and ToRs were in French).” I want to put it on record that we where never contacted by the regulator but rather by the PPP of Senegal and the ToR requested the establishment of an IXP not an RXP in Senegal. The request came after we had conducted an IXP workshop in Dakar under the CATIA support framework so for us the physical construction of the IXP was a logical next step.

Let me also put on record that it took us 2 weeks to respond to the letter because we where in the process of concluding the CATIA Programme and where all tied up in the field in workshops from country to country. We made all these clear in our response to the letter and requested to be given time to respond but we never got a response to those communication. The ToR suggested we get further details from local regulator and again our e-mails never got a response.

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