Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON
Meeting Africa’s Internet (and business) growth needs
Teraco, Africa’s leading carrier-neutral colocation provider, originally broke the high-cost Internet peering spell in South Africa with NAPAfrica. Where customers collectively used to fork out millions of Rands every year to connect across major carriers, Teraco allowed them to peer for free simply by locating in their datacentres – which offered free peering by default. However, notwithstanding NAPAfrica’s low-cost peering, Teraco and its customers remained locked into high-cost proprietary hardware and software providers.
Addressing the hardware and software cost issue, TeraCo recently announced the successful deployment of TIP Phoenix in its South African production network, with support from NEC XON. Provided by Facebook/Meta-found Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Phoenix’s open architecture gives network operators the flexibility to choose the hardware and software combinations that suit their requirements. It drastically lowers the cost of infrastructure and uses open, standards-based interfaces that still allow integration with existing network management systems.
Low Internet penetration stifles African growth
Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON, says lower networking infrastructure costs can be passed on to consumers. “That means fast Internet access becomes available to a much wider user base – opening up unprecedented education and business opportunities in Africa.”
For example, according to Statista fixed Internet connections to South African homes numbered just 1,796,360 as of 2021. That’s low for a country reported to have 17,947,000 households (also by Statista). Laing says the technology “disaggregates hardware and software and makes high speed network and datacentre interconnectivity far more accessible and affordable. The net results are faster, cheaper Internet access for the average user. Lowering barriers to access is vital for Africa where connectivity still isn’t pervasive, and cost is a bigger concern than in some parts of the world.”
The World Bank says Internet access can drive economic development. On the supply side of an economy, connectivity “can directly affect the productivity of firms, workers, and other inputs in the production process. For example, access to Internet-based technologies could help workers carry out tasks more rapidly and to higher standards of quality.” On the demand side, the bank says Internet access affects sellers and buyers’ market access. “For example, e-commerce may allow firms to make their products accessible to a much larger pool of consumers than what would have been possible without Internet access, especially in rural and remote regions.”
Michele McCann, Head of Interconnection and Peering, TeraCo said: “The deployment of TIP’s 400G Phoenix solution marks a first in Africa. It greatly enhances TeraCo’s ability to deliver greater capacity and more reliable connectivity for customers, which is at the core of our mission. We would like to thank TIP and NEC for their contributions to this successful initiative.”
Until now, the Teraco deployment has been fully sponsored by TIP to help the industry get past its aversion to risk, and being the first to take the plunge into open technology. “Now that the technology has been proven, the growth of open peering infrastructure is inevitable,” says Laing. “Now, other players will be willing to invest in the technology. In fact, we are already doing work for a major South African mobile carrier.”
In terms of the bigger picture, Laing points out that Africa is the only continent where there is the potential to connect an extra billion people over the next five years. That makes it an attractive prospect for carriers, Internet content and product/service providers. But carriers need their networks to be super-reliable, super high performance, super stable – a break in the chain can have serious knock-on effects. Since NEC is a TIP partner and helped to build the open hardware, NEC XON is well-positioned to help new or incumbent carriers integrate the various hardware, software and network peering components as a single provider. “We manage the complexity and give customers a single point of contact,” says Laing.