SUPPLY WORX | Telecoms
By Eckart Zollner,
The Jasco Group
Carrier Communities The Future of Telecoms in Africa
Africa faces a number of challenges when it comes to telecommunications, chief among which has always been a lack of fixed-line infrastructure in many areas. This has resulted in mobile becoming the de facto standard in the region. In addition to the difficulties of providing pervasive communications across the continent, Africa is also faced with the global need to shift from voice-based traffic to data. IP has become the universal language of business and technology, and in order for the continent to become more competitive on a global stage, Internet penetration must be increased. Addressing these challenges requires a shift in strategy, from infrastructure-driven competitiveness to the creation of carrier communities that make use of peering, network sharing and global interconnects to drive down cost to customer, increase penetration and access, and optimise service delivery for users across the continent.
Globally the Internet has become highly pervasive, with more than three billion users worldwide and a billion hosts. In addition, half of all mobile phones are now smartphones, further increasing Internet penetration. This figure now sits at 84% for Europe and the United States. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the total number of Internet users was in the region of 137 million in 2012, with only two million of these subscribers making use of fixed line infrastructure. Internet penetration in South Africa is around 50%, 39% in Kenya and Nigeria, and for the majority of Africa, somewhere between 10% and 20%, with some countries like Burundi sitting at just 2%. Addressing this digital divide is critical to driving the economic growth and sustainability of the continent and enabling it to compete effectively on a global stage, and mobile infrastructure is the way to do this. In fact, over the past four years, the compound annual growth rate of mobile users has been 264%.
Mobile operators need to cater to this demand, as well as the shifting revenue models from voice to data and the rapid convergence of voice, data, applications and media; all delivered over the same network and the same transport layer. In addition, since 99% of all African Internet traffic resides inside four countries, namely Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and 99% of this content is imported, delivering effective and efficient global routing is critical. With more than 120 Internet Exchange Points in Europe, 65 in the US and 43 in Africa, the old model for every carrier to own and operate its own infrastructure has become out-dated, expensive and inefficient. A new model of ‘co-opetition’ and the creation of carrier communities is emerging, using carrier neutral solution providers that enable effective infrastructure sharing, service outsourcing, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and peering with other providers to deliver optimised communication routes and networks in and between Africa and the rest of the world.
Carrier communities work together to create access to global, regional and national hubs across the world to ensure route optimisation on transmit-and-return routes for the best possible speeds, as well as faster access to content which is geographically dispersed across an ever-growing number of sources and locations. Optimised traffic routes also enable traffic to be rerouted in case of any outages, which provides greater network resilience and improved service uptime. In addition, cost effective routing to both local and international services and applications provides enhanced access at the lowest possible latency.
Infrastructure sharing is one of the major benefits of the carrier community model made possible by carrier neutral service providers. Not only does this model address the requirement for a growing network presence in geographies across the world in a cost-effective manner, it also provides multiple levels of redundancy and self-healing with rapid reconfigurations, meeting demand from the market for uninterrupted service levels. Leveraging infrastructure and service outsourcing as well as IaaS, carriers can take advantage of aggregated networks through a carrier neutral provider, which ensures greater economies of scale. Shifting from a Capex driven model to an Opex model with regard to infrastructure enables rapid service deployment, and carriers benefit from faster technology refresh, enabling them to deliver the latest features with short implementation times. In addition, carriers no longer have to focus on the cost and depreciation of infrastructure, but can instead lend their efforts towards providing innovative services and solutions to customers.
Leveraging the worldwide presence of a carrier neutral service provider enables carriers to access the local, regional and international knowledge required to ensure a successful deployment of a global access network. The ability to peer with other providers and share infrastructure through such a service provider is a cost effective way to increase market reach by accessing other networks around the world, providing new opportunities for termination points in new countries without the need to build additional infrastructure. Transport routes can be diversified with access to global cable systems, access to relevant local, regional, national and international content providers can be improved, and network resiliency and route optimisation can deliver further benefits. In addition, carrier neutral service providers provide access to other solutions such as storage, server hosting, voice switching and a variety of other value added solutions. The creation of a carrier community using global carrier neutral service providers is the future of telecommunications in Africa.