[AfrICANN-discuss] East Africa: Internet Disruptions Expose Lack of Backup Systems

LO MAMADOU alfamamadou at hotmail.com
Mon Jul 19 14:33:59 SAST 2010

East Africa: Breached And Bombed, Fibre Line Reveals Redundancy Gap
Esther Nakkazi
19 July 2010

Nairobi — The twin issues of redundancy and absence of a framework under which telecom service providers can share infrastructure came to the fore last week as breached Internet cables brought business to a halt in Uganda.

Earlier, damage on the Seacom cable had slowed down Internet connections.

Then shrapnel from one the bombs that rocked Kampala severed the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company.

The firm's fibre cable runs along the high voltage pylons, just above Kyadondo Rugby Club.

The cable that runs up to the Kenyan border is leased by the Kenya Data Network to deliver the Seacom link to Kampala.

The interference cut off Uganda Telecom (UTL), which controls an estimated 85 per cent of the local data market.

The only businesses not affected were those linked to the MTN fibre, whose cable runs underground to Malaba.

But they could not let any other service provider tap into their capacity.

This has raised the issue of redundancy, which if not addressed early could lead to loss of millions of shillings for businesses in future should similar mishaps occur.

Redundancy is the duplication of a system with the aim of increasing its reliability, usually in the case of backup or fail-safe options.

"Lack of redundancy brought business to a halt. I believe it was a local problem which should be addressed by the government," said Douglas Onyango, chief technology officer, Delta IT Solutions.

Experts in the IT community blame the failure to provide redundancy internally on the government, whose $106 million National Data Transmission backbone project has been slow to take off, and the government's failure to buy into the Teams cable.

The private sector -- particularly MTN and Uganda Telecom -- has laid fibre cables from Malaba to Katuna to link Kenya and Rwanda.

The government has linked up a few towns through the national backbone and backhaul to Lira district.

Although UTL fell back on satellite, speeds on the network were greatly reduced, leaving many businesses, including financial institutions, crippled.

"We should revise the telecom policy to put in provisions and guidelines for such an eventuality. What we should do is to promote sharing of infrastructure like masts and fibre cables," said Elisha Wasukira, the co-ordinator of I-Network, an ICT non-government organisation.

"It would ideally be a good thing to see other providers helping each other out, especially since the government is pushing for sharing of infrastructure," said Kyle Spencer, IT manager of International Medical Group.

When the Seacom cable landed in Mombasa, Kenya last year, Ugandans celebrated and anxiously waited for low Internet prices and high speeds that come with fibre connections.

But the service providers were cautious, saying clients should not expect too much too son.

They said they would maintain some satellite links for redundancy purposes.

The public were naturally disappointed, however.

After all, fibre was the much-touted solution to Internet connectivity, with low prices and high speeds.

Owners of Internet service providers (ISPs) warned that prices would go down only if data customers took on the risks of a single cable with no satellite back-up or redundancy facilities.

What happened last week -- where some Ugandan businesses lacked Internet connections for long periods -- was due to lack of satellite back up and redundancy options by ISPs.

Redundancy has long been a bone of contention in Uganda, but it is only last week that its ramifications were felt.

"We are steadily laying the national fibre cable which has now reached Lira (northern Uganda). So we know that the issue of infrastructure will be addressed soon. We had anticipated that by now other cables would have arrived at Mombasa, but they are yet to do so," said Jimmy Pat Samanya, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT.


Source : East African
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