AFRINIC is the internet number registry for Africa. It plays an important role for the internet community, not just in Africa, but across the world.
As a result of this, AFRINIC plays an important role in ICANN and other global internet bodies. Some of the issues that AFRINIC is addressing includes, IPv6 deployment, cross border connectivity and promotion of Internet Exchange Points.
I was recently with Alan Barrett, CEO, AFRINIC and the centre of discussion was on the impact and relevance of AFRINIC.
In explaining the work that AFRINIC does, Alan stated that, AFRINIC is an organisation that manages the allocation of IP internet addresses throughout the African continent. He stated further that, the role of AFRINIC is to encourage and to support internet development in Africa. Alan explained that some of the ways it does this, is through training on internet technology and organising conferences.
“Our members are mostly internet service providers and some larger businesses but, small businesses can also join, although, usually, they don’t”, Alan stressed, while stating who can be a member of AFRINIC. He stated that, the membership of AFRINIC currently stands at around 1,500 members from all over Africa.
On the benefits to an organisation owning its own IP address, Alan stated that there are two important benefits to be derived from this. These are, the fact that you can receive as much as you need from AFRINIC, whereas, if you are trying to get from your service providers, they might not have enough to provide for what you need. The second benefit, he stated, is the freedom to change to internet service providers in the future, while still keeping the same IP addresses. Alan stated that it is not expensive to own your own IP address.
Stating some of the ways in which AFRINIC is helping to deepen internet penetration in Africa, Alan stated that AFRINIC encourages the development of Internet Exchange Points, which are locations where multiple service providers in the same country, can all join together and share traffic. This enables the traffic from one, going into another one, staying in the country. “This is very important for performance and cost reduction “, he explained.
Alan stated that what used to happen before is that, traffic between two internet service providers in the same country, will have to go through Europe or the USA and that is very expensive.
He stressed that AFRINIC has a training team that goes all over Africa and it organises more than 20 training courses every year, mostly focusing on IPv6, a new version of the internet protocol. He stated that some other courses it carries out include those on how to manage IP addresses and how to interact with Africa.
Alan stated that the body engages in what he calls the FIRE program, Fund for Internet Research and Education. “We receive grants from big donors and we redistribute them in smaller grants, to help their projections throughout Africa”, he stressed.
He stated that these are given to organisations involved in the area of technical innovations, social development and bringing internet access to rural communities, which are not well served by the traditional ISPs.
To have access to those funds, Alan stated that, once a year, AFRINIC puts out calls for proposals with the submission of an application with details of what your project is doing. He stated that the call for application for the grant is usually done on the AFRINIC website, when the time comes, but the FIRE program has its own unique website, which can also be accessed from the AFRINIC website.
On the benefits for Africa, if it decides to fully deploy IPv6, Alan stated that the main benefit is to be in line with what is happening in the rest of the world. “If a web server has IPv6 only and does not have IPv4 and a user trying to access it, has only IPv6, they cannot communicate”, he stated. He observed that, in more than 10 years from now, we will have only IPv6. “During the in-between phase, people need to have both”, he stressed.
Alan explained that, end users need not worry about all these because, the smart phones available now, will support IPv6, the moment the mobile operators turns it on. Likewise, he stated that, desk computers will also support IPv6 as soon as your office IT department turns it on.
Alan stressed that, although, the deployment of IPv6 in Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world, but AFRINIC is trying to encourage the deployment of IPv6 in Africa.
On the use of the internet in Africa, Alan stated that there is always room for more use, although data is still very expensive as the cost of access is very high. “I would love to see more competition. If you have competition among service providers, that drives the price down and that in turn, encourages more usage, making it easier for users”. he concluded.