African countries can have faster and less expensive internet connectivity which in return could increase the growth of digital economies.
With Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) playing a critical role in expanding internet access and lowering connectivity costs, a vibrant internet ecosystem is possible on the continent whose demand for the service is growing in leaps and bounds.
IXPs are locations where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other network operators meet. In these locations, the ISPs and other operators exchange internet traffic. Being local makes it better for users in that the costs are greatly reduced while the international connections are bypassed altogether making the speeds better.
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Local IXPs are a critical piece of technical infrastructure that improves internet access which makes it important for African countries to ensure that faster and less expensive internet connectivity is available on the continent.
In a report by the Internet Society entitled “Anchoring the African Internet Ecosystem: Lessons from Kenya and Nigeria’s Internet Exchange Points Growth”, the growth of the IXPs in each country was exponential bringing immense savings to users.
In Kenya, KIXP grew from carrying peak traffic of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) in 2012 to 19 Gbps in 2020, with cost savings quadrupling to US$ 6 million per year.
For Nigeria, the IXPN grew from carrying just 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) to peak traffic of 125 Gbps in 2020 with cost savings increasing forty times to US$ 40 million per year.
“Kenya and Nigeria are in a better position than ever before to cope with – and contribute to – the digital revolution as the internet becomes a lifeline for many people. It is clear Africa is ready to embrace the digital revolution to spur economic development,” said Michuki Mwangi, Senior Director of Internet Technology and Development for the Internet Society.
He added that reaching this goal, however, will depend on sector players embracing IXPs and working in collaboration to create these essential local traffic anchors.
The rapid pace of internet development in both Kenya and Nigeria underscores the critical role that IXPs and the accompanying infrastructure play in the establishment of strong and sustainable internet ecosystems.
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Kenya and Nigeria’s success is due to the fact that both governments adopted policies that made it easier for an internet ecosystem to thrive. Both countries not only made it easier for different service providers to develop sub-marine cables, but they also adopted data protection regulations that spurred confidence and attracted international service providers.
The benefits of this internet ecosystem for both countries are that they are banking on the internet to develop their service economies that thrive on financial, trade and professional services.
For instance, Kenya’s economy is a 40 per cent service economy with many essential government services having moved online through the e-Citizen platform.
The benefits for the continent with faster, reliable internet connectivity are immense.
To tap into this, the World Bank Group’s Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) flagship initiative supports the digital transformation strategy for Africa prepared by the African Union (AU).
Africa has the opportunity to harness the digital economy as a driver of growth and innovation but to realise this, it has to bridge the digital divide in its economies to avoid isolation and stagnation.
The DE4A initiative recognizes that the digital economy can help accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While digital startups are struggling to attract funding and ‘traditional’ businesses are only slowly adopting digital technologies and platforms to boost productivity and sale, few governments are investing strategically and systematically in developing digital infrastructure, services, skills and entrepreneurship.
With the continent’s youthful population still locked out of gainful employment, digital technologies offer a chance to disrupt this trajectory by unlocking new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services.
Faster and reliable internet connectivity means that the continent can reap much more benefits from the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) if governments position themselves strategically.