Growing the Internet 27 August 2013

Five Questions for Michuki Mwangi

By Michuki MwangiDistinguished Technologist, Internet Growth

In 2010, the Internet Society, held the first Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) in Nairobi, Kenya. The meeting was backed by several regional ICT bodies and brought out key issues affecting the region.

For the last three years, Michuki Mwangi, training manager at the Internet Society has been involved in training and promotion of interconnection, both national and regional. He shares his insights on this year’s meeting. 

1. You have been involved in Africa tech for several years, what are some of the things you have learnt along the way? 

Over the last 5 years, the Internet Society has focused its efforts in developing the technical capacity in scalable Internet services, development of the domain name system through ccTLDs and interconnection and traffic exchange. During this period we have learned that capacity building and awareness that bridges the information asymmetry are the most important aspects of Internet development for the region.

A noteworthy experience was in Malawi where due to lack of technical knowledge on interconnection techniques, operators connected to the Internet Exchange Point (IXP) would disconnect or “deeper” networks that were poorly configured at the IXP.  After our training in 2009, no operator has been “deepened” from the IXP due to technical issues. Similarly, the training of engineers in Lesotho on interconnection in 2011 resulted in enhanced customer experience and cost saving for the operators.

In view of the diverse challenges operators face in providing Internet Services in the African region, having well trained personnel and sources of information provides significant contribution to the growth and development of the Internet. At the Internet Society we are committed to continue supporting and playing a pivotal role in building technical capacity in collaboration with Internet organizations in the region.

2. AfPIF is in its 4th year, what is your evaluation of the last three years?

The last 3 years of AfPIF have been full of pleasant surprises. The AfPIF event has seen growth in attendance, content, sponsors and most importantly interconnection. At last year’s AfPIF event, there were over 200 participants from 30 countries and a 100% increase in sponsors for the event. During the 3 year period we have observed growth in the number of cross-border interconnections where traffic is being kept regional in East and Southern Africa regions. In addition, we have noted that organizations active and supportive of AfPIF have established peering-coordinator positions and roles within their organizational structures. We believe that this progress will contribute to the growth of both national and regional interconnection.

3. African IXPs have found it challenging to attract peers, what has been your experience with the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP)?

The experience of growing critical mass at an IXP is difficult for any new IXP. KIXP has a functional secretariat with full-time staff in technical, business & administration and public relations departments which mean that it is empowered to deliver on its role and create awareness amongst the stakeholders by “knocking on doors”. Through the secretariat, KIXP has been able to promote collaboration between the stakeholders to grow peering. In Kenya most of the success can be attributed to increased commitment from the stakeholders such as the Kenyan Government which provides e-government services and policy reforms that have created a level playing field and enhanced competition. Most importantly the innovative products and services offered by local service providers have contributed significantly to the growing of the local content market.

The impact of having successful operational institutions such as IXPs, ccTLD, NREN, independent regulators, strong multi-stakeholder forum and an engaged ministry has resulted in a very strong and dynamic Internet environment. Further, strong partnerships with other stakeholders have enabled the successful creation of a local Internet technical community that has evolved into an ecosystem that hinges and thrives on existence of the local IXP.

4. What are you expecting of African IXPs this year?

The Internet Society was awarded the contract to implement Phase one of the African Union African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) Project in 2012. Through the AXIS project we are hoping to get new IXPs established in a number of countries in 2013. Countries like Burundi, Gambia, Namibia, Seychelles and Cote D’Ivore have shown encouraging progress to setup IXPs following the AXIS best practice and technical aspects workshops conducted in their respective countries.

We also look forward to supporting the growth of existing IXPs in the region through our interconnection and traffic exchange program by identifying the needs of each IXP based on their level of development.  Following the creation of the African IXP Association (AF-IX) during AfPIF-3, we are supporting their activities this year with their first formal meeting taking place prior to the start of AfPIF-4.

5. AfPIF goes to North Africa for the first time, what are you looking forward to?

We are excited to be going to the North African region for the AfPIF-2013 event.  It is our hope that after the event, we shall see more national and regional interconnection taking place with the establishment of national IXPs in Morocco, Algeria and even Libya as well as cross-border interconnections in the region. We also look forward to meeting, learning and sharing with the Internet stakeholders in the North African region while aiming at advancing the interconnection and content development opportunities in Africa.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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