Monday, 12 October 2009

African universities to get greatly improved bandwidth

This was announced in Russell Southwood’s recent Balancing Act newsletter, October 9th 2009:

“African universities will buy 60 Gb of bandwidth and set up a continental network

Almost unnoticed African universities have come together to sort out their bandwidth problems in the new era of fibre. In April 2010, European NREN Dante will start to implement with eastern Africa’s UbuntuNet Alliance, a continental network to link up African universities with plentiful bandwidth to their colleagues across the globe. On 1 November West and Central Africa will set up its own network organisation to join the process. African universities currently spend an estimated US$1.4 million and are destined to become important players in network development.

15 million euros from the European Commission will go via European National Research Network (NREN) Dante to buy connectivity for African universities with a start date for implementation of April 2010. A 25% contribution will either come from the African Union or national Governments. According to UbuntuNet Alliance’s Tusu Tusubira:”Dante will buy the cross-border connectivity and UbuntuNet may get to operate it. UbuntuNet wants to be part of the implementation and to develop the opportunity.”

In advance of this happening, National Research Networks (NRENs) have been buying their own capacity in considerable quantity at low prices that acknowledge universities are a different type of customer. . . .

South African NREN TENET got the ball rolling by buying an STM64 from Seacom, which is just short of 10 Gbps. .. . . As an independent cable provider Seacom understood the importance of the university market as an “anchor tenant” early whereas some of the other telco-initiated cable providers were keener on universities buying individually at higher prices. As Dunacan Martin, CEO of TENET tells it:”Seacom has been very supportive.”

”By the end of year, the South African research and education backbone SANRen will (be) connected and the full bandwidth can be delivered to the member universities. ”

. . . . However all is not plain sailing as the capacity will have to cross borders to supply universities in neighbouring countries. The problem as Martin has discovered is as follows:”Cross border connectivity prices are controlled by unpublished agreements between incumbent operators on either side of the border. One of the negotiating partners, Telkom, said it would drop its prices to accommodate us but the other country’s telco would not agree”.

On the West and Central side of the continent, the Co-ordinator of Research and Education Networking of the Association of African Universities, Boubakar Barry has been the moving force behind getting an UbuntuNet Alliance-like structure together that will be launched on 1 November.

Barry emphasises the unique nature of universities as customers: ”Providers should not consider the Higher Education and Research institutions as normal customers. They are critical for the development of Africa. It’s now very important for them to be able to part of the game with this type of infrastructure for global academic collaborations. . . . The same rules cannot apply to Higher Education and Research Institutions that apply to other operators. It’s a public good. If you train and educate people, it benefits the private sector as they need highly trained engineers. Networked universities will provide them.”

So, a major step forward, a recognition of the value to economies of research connectivity, but a few hurdles to be crossed on the road to equality of access to global research. For the full article click here.

1 comment:

folu said...

Great initiative. It will add value to academic research, facilitate faster collaboration with universities across the globe amongst other benefits. Well done Africa and good luck. Please keep us updated on progress. Thank you.