Africa Takes Center Stage at ITW 2016

Network Conferences

By Thomas SimpsonJun 16, 2016


TeleGeography returned to International Telecoms Week once again on May 9-11. The official event program, organized by Capacity Conferences featured two panels specifically dedicated to African connectivity issues, “Unlocking Potential in Africa: Keeping up with African Data Traffic” and “Africa Data Centers, Why Africa, Why Now?” Our analysts, Paul Brodsky and Patrick Christian, attended both discussions and found them a great supplement to information learned in private meetings. Here are our key takeaways from the event about the Africa market. 

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to face unique challenges in its data traffic market, namely that of building out metro and access networks. Not only would building out these local networks increase end-user demand, they would better connect data centers and allow regional ISPs to keep traffic local, instead of relying on international transit. This, in turn, would increase competition and lower backhaul and metro capacity prices. The African Data Traffic panel featured speakers from PCCW GlobalLiquid, WIOCC, and MainOne, who are all facing the challenge of building out terrestrial networks first hand.

Google, also featured on the panel, explained the role they’ve played in trying to solve the problem on the continent. Google’s Project Link just completed work on building out metro fiber for local ISPs to invest in in Accra, following a similar successful build-out in Kampala. In essence, Google funds these builds, then local ISPs and MSOs pay for access and take up ownership—a venture following their infrastructure sharing model. Google’s Chris George explained these arrangements can help encourage local incumbents that control local fiber networks to start thinking of themselves as ISPs and not voice providers and ultimately stimulate them to update their networks and share with other ISPs to drive up traffic and demand.

Existing and Planned African Submarine Cables


Meanwhile, on the African submarine cable front, panelists representing a wide variety of operators discussed the recently proposed construction of the Africa-1 cable and the impact it might have on the market. Africa-1 would run up the east coast of Africa to Egypt and eventually branch at Djibouti out to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This proposal seemed to divide opinion on the panel. Some on the panel believe that there is already enough capacity on the east coast to meet demand. Mike van den Bergh of PCCW (a member of the consortium proposing to construct Africa-1) made a strong case for the construction of Africa-1, claiming that the three existing cables on the east coast don’t provide enough diversity or redundancy, especially as demand continues to grow on the Africa-Asia trade corridor.

Meanwhile, African data centers remain a hot topic, as the current dearth of such facilities on the continent means there’s still room for investment. The data center panel discussed that while some new African data centers are opening up with some fanfare (MainOne a few years ago and Kooba opening soon) there still remains considerable hesitation from big content providers from moving in beyond the major hubs in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Again, part of the problem that is inhibiting growth is the lack of local access and terrestrial networks, as well as the lack of competition.

Finally, a note on TeleGeography’s own participation in the event. This ITW featured a significant first for TeleGeography, as we moved from a booth space on the exhibit floor to a dedicated meeting room to better accommodate the private meetings that make ITW a must attend event. We enjoyed the move to this new meeting space greatly and will likely continue this arrangement for future events. We hope to see you there next year!

Paul Brodsky

Paul Brodsky

Paul Brodsky is a Senior Analyst at TeleGeography. He is part of the wholesale network, internet, and voice research team. His regional expertise includes Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

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Patrick Christian

Patrick Christian

Patrick Christian is a Senior Analyst at TeleGeography. He is a member of the wholesale network, Internet, and voice research teams. He is also the managing editor of the global enterprise network practice. Patrick's regional focus include West African and European markets.

Connect with Patrick