Africa should pay heed to allocation of its IP addresses

The unveiling of the African Union supported Global System of Mobile Communication Roaming Exchange (GRX) last month, which is expected to not only significantly cut the cost on international calls, but also enhance the end-user experience when using voice and data services, is good news.

The unveiling of the African Union supported Global System of Mobile Communication Roaming Exchange (GRX) last month, which is expected to not only significantly cut the cost on international calls, but also enhance the end-user experience when using voice and data services, is good news.

The GSM Roaming Exchange facility, the fourth in the world after Amsterdam, Singapore and Washington, is being hosted at the carrier neutral East Africa Data Centre (EADC) in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

The GRX will be a great boon for roaming Africans. Roaming, for the sake of clarity, is the ability for a mobile subscriber to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services using their usual SIM card when travelling outside the geographical coverage area of the home network.

 

Mobile traffic originating from Africa will now be passing through the new facility. But the real benefits will be reaped by subscribers calling home from outside the region.

 

Previously, depending on where one was calling from – say, from outside East Africa – the traffic would have been routed through either of the other three GRX points, which is still not only slow but expensive for many subscribers.

To put it in perspective, take a Ugandan who has travelled to Angola. Going by the figures on the MTN Uganda website the subscriber would have to pay UGX 17,000 (US$5) per minute to call East Africa or anywhere else internationally, but the call would only cost UGX 2,000 (60 US Cents) to any mobile network within Angola. Calling home to MTN Uganda would cost the subscriber UGX 9000 (US$2.6).

Uganda serves only as an example, but the disproportionate rates apply also with the other carriers across the region.

With the new GSM Roaming Exchange, the route will be much shorter leading up to seven-fold increase in loading speeds, according to industry experts.

There is no gainsaying that mobile carries are constantly looking to improve reliability, capacity, efficiency and profitability. For this reason the Nairobi GRX is targeting up to 148 mobile operators from the continent, whose cost savings will be passed on to their subscribers.

This derives from the fact that the GRX will connect with the other three and diversify players and revenue opportunities for GRX and Internet Protocol Exchange (IPX) providers, thereby reducing costs for Mobile Network Operators in the region.

GRX and IPX are of a kind and facilitate efficient interconnection and “peering” between groups of GSM Mobile Network Operators.

The African Union has been facilitating payment to overseas carriers to exchange intra-continental traffic on behalf of African states, a process that was costly as it was inefficient.

For this reason the AU provided the grant for the establishment of the Nairobi GRX, in addition to having increased the internet exchange points in the continent increased from 18 to 32 over the last five years.

And, while on internet protocol exchange, industry experts have warned that Africa is set to run out of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses soon – actually as early as next year.

IP addresses are unique identifiers for each particular gadget – smart phone, laptop, etc – anytime they go online to move data, whether it’s that Facebook post or merely browsing and web page requests.

Much of the world has been migrating internet addresses to the new IPv6, while Africa is still on the older Internet Protocol, IPv4, whose allocation for the continent is soon to run out.

Industry experts urge heed to this fact. If Africa mismanages the transition to the new IP addresses, they warn, it would affect the ability to add any new devices, as well as cyber security, both of which are seen as vital in achieving a higher level of Internet penetration and digital growth in the continent.

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