By Erin McGann & Fernando Zarur
There aren’t that many computers in Cameroon, and, for now, that's a good thing. At least from the perspective of the engineers working to expand the quality and availability of the Internet in the country.
Cameroon is struggling to keep up with the rest of Africa, as well as the rest of the world, in terms of the number of Cameroonians using the Internet with only 5% of the country's 20 million people online (Internet World Stats). Internet Society Community Grant recipient Victor Ndonnang thinks this is the time to make a giant leap forward.
‘Imagine, in the next two, three or five years, when more of the people of Cameroon have the ability to connect to the Internet, and we can’t, because the Internet is "full"!’ says Ndonnang.
Ndonnang is one of the experts behind the implementation of the latest incarnation of the Internet Protocol (aka IP) in Cameroon, better known as IPv6. This is the technology that sits at the heart of the Internet and allows computer networks to communicate and exchange data. However, the current version of the protocol, IPv4, is quickly running out of room. As he says, the Internet is indeed getting "full".
At the moment, local engineers have to use a technique known as "network address translation" to manage the lack of IPv4 addresses. This has serious drawbacks in terms of the quality of Internet connectivity - a crucial topic for developing countries.
IPv6 will make Internet access cheaper, faster and better, as well as making it easier to host local content, locally. These are all vital steps to getting the people of Cameroon online and to unleash the potential of the Internet as a platform for education, preserving cultural heritage and human rights.
Started in 2011 with the help of an Internet Society Community Grant and led by Ndonnang and his colleague Janvier Ngnoulaye, the Impact IPv6 project focuses on educating students, professional experts and trainers in the use of the latest Internet protocol. With more than 100 people trained in the last two years, it has been so successful that several local ISPs have already registered blocks of IPv6 addresses, with others committing to do so in the near future.
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‘This is important for us in Cameroon - we have to make sure there is space for us when we go online,’ says Ndonnang. ‘It’s not easy for everyone to have a computer or a smartphone. People just don’t have the hardware. Also, the Internet infrastructure is not very well developed. Outside of the main cities, there isn’t DSL. Our governments are working on this by creating Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) centres in less-developed cities.’
In fact, engineers and managers from Cameroon's National ICT Agency have been trained through the project and are now working to activate a National IPv6 Task force transition. If the trend continues, the country will build its new technical infrastructure based on the latest internet protocol technology, making national networks far better prepared for growth.
However, building out the physical infrastructure is only one part of Internet development. Ndonnang and Ngnoulaye are also connecting with users, ISP managers and regulators to create what they hope will be the right environment for Cameroon's much needed leap forward.