Africa: Cogent, the Largest Supplier of Internet Transit to Africa, Seeks to Expand Its Presence in Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria

London — Sub-Saharan Africa is no longer the poor Cinderella of international internet markers. Growth in both supply and demand and a growing data centre ecosystem mean that international companies providing low cost, high speed internet access and private networks are increasingly having a local presence. Russell Southwood spoke to Dave Schaeffer, CEO, Cogent about how it is expanding its presence on the continent.
Cogent is 21 years old and is Shaeffer’s second venture:”I’m a bit of a serial entrepreneur and this is the second company I’ve founded and taken public.” It is entirely focused on bandwidth:”The internet is the only network that will eventually matter.”

Shaeffer reels off the statistics about a company that is “a bit of a hybrid”. It has 97,000 miles of fibre on 20-30 year IRUs that is lit with its own equipment at 980 transmission sites. Much of this fibre is connected to large-scale skyscrapers and it has presence in 1,300 carrier-neutral data centres. It also connects to 7,400 networks “who may transit for us.” It is one of around a dozen global networks.
According to Schaeffer, Cogent has been the number one supplier of internet transit to Africa for over a decade:”We have had a long relationship with incumbents and competitive providers with connections in London, Portugal and Spain.” Two years ago it started selling in Johannesburg and has a presence in Teraco’s data centre, enabling African carriers to connect there. Although the traffic is bi-directional, “we’re mostly selling traffic into Africa because most content is generated in the USA and Europe.”
It is seeking to expand its presence in Sub-Saharan Africa in three ways. It will expand its metro presence in Greater Johannesburg and will expand its terrestrial fibre to Cape Town. In addition, it will expand to other countries:”We have applied for licenses in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania. Each has its own timeframe to approve.” In three years time it would like to be in other countries.

It likes to work with alternative fibre providers like railways and utilities:”We hope (the lack of availability of dark fibre in other African countries) will change. A strong internet presence is a catalyst for growth. Regulators need to incentivize an open internet.”
Globally, 67% of its customers are enterprise but they represent less than 5% of traffic:”Our customers go from Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft at one end to small regional publishers at the other end. It also includes aggregators like Akami and Limelight..

Its business model is predicated on the availability of dark fibre:”We do the minimum of building. It’s all about a combination of availability and price and this varies from market to market. Outside of the countries above, dark fibre is much less available.” He believes that growth will come from fixed fibre netoworks:”As the number of bits per minute increases, there’s a limit to what mobile networks can carry. Mobile is always more expensive than available fibre. 5G will help them but the three-fold order of magnitude increase will come from fixed fibre. Africa has a clean slate. Fibre is expensive but very efficient.”

In Brief
Orange Middle East and Africa and AXA CIMA have announced an agreement for the joint acquisition of a majority stake in DabaDoc (www.DabaDoc.com), alongside the company’s founders. DabaDoc, founded by Zineb Drissi-Kaitouni and Driss Drissi-Kaitouni in 2014, is a platform that digitalizes access to healthcare in Africa. DabaDoc has developed solutions that are used by thousands of healthcare professionals in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Orange and AXA’s investment and network will accelerate DabaDoc’s growth and extend DabaDoc’s services to other regions, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021.
Telecom companies in Nigeria have received formal instruction from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) the industry regulator to suspend access to Twitter. The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), an umbrella body of all licensed telecom operators in Nigeria, who disclosed this in a statement, noted that the telcos will abide by the instruction based on national interest provisions in the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003. Paradigm Initiative commented that:”The directive by the Nigerian government is at its core, an abuse of the rights of Nigerians not just to freedom of expression, but many other rights guaranteed in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This suspension, which is a reaction of the Nigerian government to the company’s enforcement of its platform rules, is aimed at insulating the government from criticism, especially by Nigeria’s youth who are over 70% of the country’s population.”

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