By Lilian Mutegi:
UbuntuNet Alliance, the regional high-speed Internet network for research and education, has just been commissioned the research and education network for Eastern and Southern Africa.
DANTE, the operator of GÉANT, the pan-European research and education network, has announced the commissioning of the UbuntuNet network to their peers in the region and to Europe.
The African research and education community has for far too long carried the burden of slow Internet connectivity which has consequently widened the gap between the continent's researchers and their peers globally. The establishment of national research and education networks (NRENs), the regional UbuntuNet Alliance, and the kick off of the AfricaConnect are milestones transforming the research and education landscape on the continent.
Cathrin Stöver, chief international relations officer, DANTE said: "Today through the collaboration with GÉANT, the UbuntuNet network is boosting EU-African collaboration, bringing research and educational opportunities unprecedented in Africa. The implications for socio-economic development go far beyond anything we could have dreamed of before, putting African research on the map and transforming the lives of millions. I am very proud that GÉANT is the first R&E network to connect to Africa!"
The rollout of the UbuntuNet network has been implemented in two phases based on country readiness to connect to the regional network. Block A, which was completed in February 2014, procured equipment to establish Points of Presence (PoPs) in Mtunzini, Maputo, Dar es salaam, Nairobi, Kampala and Kigali, and to upgrade the Ubuntunet Alliance PoP in London. High capacity cross border links interconnecting these PoPs to create a regional research network were also procured under this phase, as well as a transcontinental link between Nairobi and the Ubuntunet Alliance's PoP in Amsterdam. The first phase serves a total of six NRENs namely TENET (south Africa), MoRENet (Mozambique), TERNET (Tanzania), KENET (Kenya), RENU (Uganda) and RwEdNet (Rwanda), and forms the backbone on which the network to serve the entire Alliance region will be created. Block B included procurement of equipment and installation of high capacity cross-border links connecting the NRENs including; Eb@le (Democratic Republic of Congo), MAREN (Malawi) and ZAMREN (Zambia). The link between Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Lusaka in Zambia was completed at the end of May 2014 drastically reducing connectivity costs to nearly nothing for the Zambian research and education community. Links from Lusaka to Blantyre in Malawi, and from Cape Town to Moanda in DRC will be completed in the near future.
A major immediate impact of the network is that connectivity costs have dropped from a regional average of $4000 per megabit per second per month to $135per megabit per second per month indicating a 97 percent price reduction in just four years!
This shows that the progress of rolling out the UbuntuNet network has unfolded at an impressively good pace and Chief Executive Officer of UbuntuNet Alliance, Eng. Dr Tusu Tusubira does not hide his joy at this amiable stride in promoting research and education networking in the region.
"We are delivering international and regional bandwidth to NRENs in these counties at a consolidated price of $135 per megabit per second per month. I find this exciting, because, at last we have eliminated one barrier to regional participation in global research and education collaboration," Said Dr Tusubira.
Apart, from lowering the cost of bandwidth, providing resilience is yet another benefit to the ZAMREN network. In addition, the new UbuntuNet circuit between Dar es Salam and Lusaka is expected to contribute significantly to improved health research in bioinformatics in Zambia says Bonny Khunga, ZAMREN CEO.
"As you know we have bioinformatics research currently being conducted in Zambia at the Copperbelt University, this is one of the research areas that will benefit from this link," Khunga added.
Impressively, through the AfricaConnect project, more countries have been connected to the UbuntuNet network than initially envisaged. The Alliance is grateful for the assistance rendered by the European Commission in helping to scale-up rollout of the regional component of the UbuntuNet network. These strides would also not have been possible without the partnerships and rapport between DANTE, UbuntuNet Alliance, WACREN and respective partner NRENs.
AfricaConnect has birthed a more resilient and secure high-speed network that offers greater connectivity between African countries, as well as high-speed links to the pan-European GÉANT. Economically, the UbuntuNet network is gradually pushing countries in Eastern and Southern Africa towards realizing the MDGs through improved ICT.