Last week TeleGeography Senior Analyst Patrick Christian headed to the African Peering and Interconnection Forum, where he presented on the state of the continent's local traffic, their reliance on Europe, and the promise of new cloud data centers.
For anyone who couldn't be in Abidjan, we captured the highlights for you below.
Growing Intra-African Bandwidth
Europe remained Africa’s top internet destination in 2017, accounting for 81 percent of the continent’s bandwidth.
Carriers still use intra-African capacity to reach submarine cable stations for onward transit to Europe rather than to facilitate the exchange of African traffic locally. But this is changing.
However, Intra-African bandwidth—which had been negligible for many years—has steadily grown (up from 9 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2017). This is largely due to the growth of terrestrial cable infrastructure.
Patrick also highlighted that cross-border terrestrial networks are expanding rapidly in Africa. Carriers still use intra-African capacity to reach submarine cable stations for onward transit to Europe rather than to facilitate the exchange of African traffic locally. But this is changing.
Liquid Telecom rolled out a large, high-capacity terrestrial fiber network linking South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Countries including Djibouti, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya serve as important regional internet hubs. Similarly, Internet Solutions purchased Kenyan ISP and fiber operator AccessKenya to expand its footprint into East Africa.
Think Global, Exchange Local
Patrick also noted that local and intra-African-exchanged traffic makes up only a very small percentage of total internet traffic in the region.
Most content in Africa comes from or through Europe via international transit. But more content is moving to Africa. Google and Akamai have installed caching servers as part of their content delivery network in a number of African countries to move content closer to end-users. With the caches, content can be hosted and accessed locally, which can lower latency from more than 200 milliseconds to as low as 10 to 20 milliseconds.
Lower latency improves performance of many applications, in particular those providing video content. The improved performance leads to increased usage and drives traffic growth.
Caches are often installed in African internet exchanges. This approach allows multiple ISPs to access the content stored in the cache, but also to share the cost of international transit required to populate the cache. Although initially the installation of a cache will reduce upstream international transit requirements, the surge in overall traffic due to better performance often offsets the initial decline in international traffic.
With the caches, content can be hosted and accessed locally, which can lower latency from more than 200 milliseconds to as low as 10 to 20 milliseconds.
This scenario in developing regions is much different from developed ones, where the localization of traffic is reportedly mitigating the growth of the international traffic.
The Data Centers Are Coming
In addition to caching, cloud data centers are coming to Africa. In May 2017 Microsoft announced that it plans to bring two cloud data centers online in South Africa.
This marks the first cloud data center expansion into Africa—the only remaining region without any.
Without data centers in the region, all cloud computing in Africa has been connected to data centers in Europe, resulting in greater latency. If countries like in Brazil or Australia are good indicators, the remaining big three cloud service providers may also build cloud data centers in similar locations, making South Africa a cloud hub for Africa.
Patrick Christian is a Principal Analyst with TeleGeography. He heads the Cloud and WAN Infrastructure research service. He also focuses on West African and European markets specializing in international bandwidth markets and internet infrastructure, WAN services, terrestrial and submarine cable systems, and international voice traffic analysis.