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SA positioned as key African connectivity hub

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Kathy Gibson reports from Infracom 2016 – The South African data centre industry could have a key role to play in meeting the transforming needs of the African market through localised data hosting and regional interconnectivity.
Liquid Telecom is a case in point, building an infrastructure network that connects data centres and customers in 12 countries over a 24 000km network.
Ben Roberts, group director: technology and innovation at Liquid Telecom, says South Africa could become a connectivity hub for not just itself, but for other countries in Africa.
At least seven relatively new undersea cables are being laid, helping to drive down bandwidth pricing. So far, at least $3-billion has been invested in cables, and most of them are less than seven years old so they have a future life of 25 years.
Overall, the increased competition has led to prices of backbone Internet tumbling, Roberts says.
A major issue for Africa is that broadband data networks tend to follow major roads, rail lines and ports.
For instance, he explains that when Liquid Telecom installed a fibre network into Zimbabwe, it went from Harare through South Africa, to hook up with the undersea cable in kwaZulu-Natal. Although it would have been quicker and shorter to run it through Mozambique, South Africa is better positioned as a data hub.
“Johannesburg is the biggest data hub in sub-Saharan Africa,” Roberts points out, with Nairobi second.
The hubs tend to be in the traditional and growing regional business hubs, he says, and South African business often expand into neighbouring countries and the rest of Africa.
In addition, he says, global multinationals tend to choose South Africa as their first African office because of the ease of doing business facilitated by a mature infrastructure, as well as a good legal and regulatory framework.
Data centres have a number of basic needs, he adds: reliable power, sufficient cooling capacity, physical security, connectivity, Internet exchange points, the ability to be maintained without risk, an adherence to standards of tidiness, support, fire prevention, security of tenure, data security and favourable data protection legislation.
These needs can all be met in the South African environment – and are not easy to ensure in many other African locations, Roberts points out.
South Africa also boasts a number of Interconnect points. These include JINX, NAP Africa and others in Cape Town and Durban, In fact, JINX and DINX are Africa’s first multi-site IXPs spanning multiple data centres, which allow network owners to exchange data traffic for free once they’re connected.
Meanwhile, NAP Africa and JINX are regional exchange points, where multiple countries exchange data.
“South Africa also has a growing data centre industry,” Roberts says. “A lot of infrastructure already exists in South Africa, and it has been well maintained.”
While most of the world’s popular content providers are international, many of them are present in Africa or planning to come soon. In addition, says Roberts, local content is emerging strongly.
Technology drives disruptive innovation, Roberts says, and having the infrastructure in place is important.
“Africa is aspiring to have more data-driven economies,” he says. For instance, mobile money is driving financial inclusion in the continent, and is forcing the banking industry to innovate.
We are also seeing the emergence of M2M services, e-government services and IoT applications, he says. There is emerging development in the area of big data and analytics, OTT services are transforming communications, and there is a drive to smart cities in helping to improve security.
“These are all driving data growth, which has led to new investments in data centre infrastructure,” Roberts says.