Friday, October 05, 2012

Improving African infrastructure -- Internet exchange points come online

Russell Southwood of Balancing Act, who has been tracking and encouraging the growth of the Internet in Africa since the 1990s, reports that Africa’s future data architecture is beginning to fall into place. In recent years, several undersea cables have gone online, linking Africa to the rest of the world, and now Africans are beginning to deploy Internet exchange points.

Undersea cable that are online or soon will be
In the very early days of the Internet, virtually all international traffic was routed through the National Science Foundation backbone in the United States. An email from the University of Chile in Santiago to Catholic University in Santiago, was routed to Florida then back to Santiago. The US National Science Foundation gave free service and even offered connectivity subsidies to foreign research and education networks. (There was no commercial traffic -- it was all for research and education).

As usage expanded, ISPs in Europe, Asia and South America cut costs by creating domestic Internet exchange points. Traffic remained local -- it was no longer routed through the United States.

As you see on this map of Internet exchange points, Africa is now starting down that path. An interactive version of the map is online at the University of Oregon Network Startup Resources Center which has been tracking and encouraging the spread of the Internet in developing nations since the late 1980s.

Internet exchange points in Africa
Southwood points out that Africa still has a long way to go, stating that "on a recent visit to a Central African country, I discovered that an mbps of international bandwidth still costs over US$1,500 compared to the low hundreds or lower in more competitive countries." (And that is still around 10 times the cost in developed nations).

African connectivity trains the rest of the world, but is improving
Indeed, Africa lags far behind other continents in Internet connectivity and utilization, and the relative gap continues to grow, but the absolute level of service is improving. That will benefit Africa and the rest of the world as well.