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The long-awaited announcement from AfrISPA (the African ISP association) on the appointment of regional carriers in response to its Request for Service has finally been made. The regional carriers will provide data transport between the different ISP members of local Internet Exchange Points. Transtel, a division of Transnet Limited and Africa Online/SkyVision are the two bidders that successfully met the Request For Service (RFS) criteria to provide an African Regional Internet Traffic solution. The peering point design can be extended to allow additional Internet Exchanges to join the network with ease at any time in the future. Meanwhile, East African regulatory association EARPTO has got a task force working on connecting the three East African IXPs (TIXP, UIXP and KIXP) in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

AfrISPA wants to establish true inter-country connectivity within the African continent, to remove the current dependence upon overseas carriers and to promote the establishment and growth of African regional data carriers. The establishment of a network of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) within Africa would also result in reduced costs, improved speeds and the improvement of the Internet backbone within Africa as a whole.

Africa Online is a Pan-African ISP with operations on the ground in eight countries: Kenya , Tanzania, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Namibia, Swaziland and Cote d'Ivoire. It is also a partner in a joint venture company with UUNET and, through this, is also able to directly cover Zambia. Africa Online works with Affiliates in those countries where it does not have a physical presence. With a Staff complement of over 300 full-time professionals, it has built up expertise and experience for the delivery of IP solutions throughout Africa.

Africa Online will offer a fully meshed network, which uses proven and reliable VSAT technology to provide point-to-point connectivity between IXPs. This solution is cost effective and ensures that latency will be maintained at low levels between any two countries. By utilising existing terrestrial links between certain countries (e.g. Kenya and Tanzania) it will be possible to create regional hubs whose component countries can share one VSAT link and hence reduce installation costs even further. Existing terrestrial links (where available) will also be used as a back-up solution to the VSAT link.

Africa Online is partnering with Sky Vision to deliver this project. SkyVision is a provider of turnkey Internet services over satellite, specialising in Internet backbone connectivity service. Acting as an international “ISP of ISPs” for large as well as smaller ISPs and carriers, SkyVision deploys its extensive IP network for the delivery of premium quality services within its geographic reach of over 120 countries.

Transtel serves the global telecommunications needs of the Transnet group, while providing a variety of telecommunications services to corporate clients throughout Africa. Today, Transtel is one of the largest private telecommunication network operators in the southern hemisphere and is currently a significant stakeholder in the South African Second Network Operator (SNO). It has developed a sophisticated network infrastructure and some unique telecommunications solutions to support the South African transport industry and other major corporate users. Transtel has been operating a Satellite Network Division since 1994 and has customers in 18 countries.

Transtel’s ability to deliver complete integrated network solutions makes the company a powerful operator. The primary supplier for the satellite communication equipment is ViaSat; a company based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Transtel designed the proposed network for operation in the C-band frequency range and uses satellite components designed and manufactured by ViaSat. The allocated bandwidth can be set on a per site basis, depending on the traffic requirement. The system is designed for easy upgrade of the services from the Network Operation Centre (NOC), located at the Transtel’s Satellite network premises in South Africa. Transtel can optimally connect to Internet carriers from Europe or at the South African node should any of the ISPs require international bandwidth via this system.

Meanwhile East African regulatory association EARPTO has given a manadate to a Task Force to inter-connect the three East African IXPs. Kenya has been tasked to co-ordinate the Task Force's work on the project. The terms of reference include: working out the physical model; looking at the commercial and technical aspects of the model; and setting a timeframe for implementation.

In regulatory terms, the Task Force is looking at defining local traffic as traffic within the three countries. It will also look at whether it is possible to use excess or unused capacity on private networks like TANESCO and Kenya Power. Other countries may join in the future and same model will be extended, bearing in mind that as the number of members nodes increases the complexity also increases. The overall approach adopted by the Task Force is to have multiple providers (carriers) which are technology independent. ISPs as customers would be free to choose their own carriers and there would be no monopoly or single carrier with protected status. The Task Force is seeking to develop a pilot project that will last for one year so that all involved can learn from its experiences.

IDCRC and the ITU have jointly published a report on IXPs and RXPs (in both English and French) called Via Africa: Creating local and regional IXPs to save money and bandwidth. If you would like to download a copy, for the English version go to:
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