LESOTHO LAYS THE FOUNDATIONS FOR INTERNET ACCESS

4 May 2001

Top Story

With the introduction of its own national internet hub, Lesotho has cut the umbilical cord with South Africa. The authors of this week’s story (for names see the end of the article) describe how this was achieved and Lesotho’s future ambitions in this field.

 

Three privately owned ISPs - Leo, Square One and Adelfang have introduced internet access in Lesotho since October 2000.

 

This follows the successful efforts of the Government of Lesotho, the private sector and external funders to join forces and coordinate their efforts in leading Lesotho along a strategic path into the information age. Their first objective was to set up Lesotho’s National Internet Hub (LNIH) to provide high quality. cost-effective internet access and foster development of internet services in Lesotho.

 

The Government of Lesotho through the Ministry of Trade and Industry approached the United States Government to provide assistance for this LNIH venture. This led to the Leland Initiative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of Lesotho and the Government of United States signed in May 2000. The MOU contains guidelines and stipulates obligations of each of the signatories for smooth running, efficient provision of internet services in Lesotho. Several task committees were established to examine infrastructural, policy and e-commerce issues. Tele-Com Lesotho (Pty) Ltd, (TCL) agreed to take on the responsibility of setting up the internet hub to implement connectivity of ISPs and provide a cost-effective international internet gateway.

 

TCL’s LNIH was put into service on 20th October 2000. Its core is a 7-slot Tigris router platform. There is also a 3-slot Tigris router for back-up redundancy, and two DNS servers. The latter use Netpilot Internet tailor-made servers from Equiinet. A Nokia firewall running FW Checkpoint is also connected to the LNIH platform as well as an e-mail server running Linux sendmail and a proxy Netpilot server for TCL’s own corporate Internet access. The system has been operating reliably to date, at 99.98% availability.

 

Monitoring software with accounting capabilities is due to be installed to enhance management capabilities of the platform, and will thus be improving service.

 

The LNIH platform is connected to SAIX on a 512 Kb/s link. October 2000 saw the three registered ISPs, which already operate in Republic of South Africa, being connected up on a trial basis. Each ISP has a 128kbps channel in a channelised E1, which is connected to the platform. The LNIH hub/gateway provides connectivity to the ISPs, who in turn provide Internet services to corporate bodies and the public in general. A cost-based tariff structure has been proposed with a basic link rate of 128 kbps. The Lesotho Telecommunications Authority will be the final arbitrator of the tariff structure; their decision is awaited. The ISPs will be required to decommission the internet access with their previous South African access providers.

 

Building on this LNIH infrastructure, the Government’s Ministry of Communications has set out its own strategic mission, which is to ensure timely dissemination of Government policy information and documents. This has been realised since the launching of a Government website (www.lesotho.gov.ls) in October 2000 by His Majesty King Letsie III.

 

TCL IT engineers have a range of expertise and are growing in experience. TCL is pro-active, forward looking, and committed to ensure that the training needs of its engineers are met. Staff have been sent to leading European and African universities to complete full undergraduate degree courses. In addition, staff have been encouraged to attend short intense sandwich courses. Facilitating staff to obtain postgraduate qualifications in order to equip the company to meet the major technological challenges ahead is also being considered. This augurs well for the prospects of TCL moving Lesotho rapidly to the forefront of the information age.

 

The LNIH platform was designed to remain in service well into the future. The Government and all interested parties are maintaining a lively interest in its progress; they understand the importance of this initiative as an information society foundation stone. It is of national economic and strategic importance to provide reliable, durable, affordable, high-quality information communications services, which is universal in its access within Lesotho and universal in opening Lesotho to all the benefits of the full global information society. This practical telecommunications engineering policy is vital to stimulating Lesotho’s economic growth in a modern e-world, and fostering healthy e-commerce business enterprise and entrepreneurship.

 

The authors of this article are:

Adri van der Veer,

Chief Executive Officer, Tele-Com Lesotho (Pty) Ltd,

Abia Moloisane,

IT & Telecomms Engineer, Tele-Com Lesotho (Pty) Ltd,

Grace Tlebere,

Network Administrator, Tele-Com Lesotho (Pty) Ltd.

Mairtin O’Droma,

Senior Lecturer ­ Telecommunications Engineering, University of Limerick.

 

Copyright © 2001 Tele-Com Lesotho (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved