[Column] Patrick Ndegwa: The future of connectivity in Africa – and how to prepare your business

Connectivity has transformed traditional business models in Africa and given consumers new platforms, products, and services that they can access anytime and anywhere – especially critical in the midst of a pandemic. Data- and network-dependent technologies such as automation, IoT, AI, blockchain, cloud, and advanced analytics are dramatically accelerating the pace of innovation, but our increased consumption of data is also fuelling the need for improved networks and connectivity. So, what does the future of connectivity hold for African businesses, and what can they do to prepare for it?

New kinds of connectivity

When the Internet first reached Africa, service providers had to rely on sporadic and expensive satellite connections that made affordable connectivity largely inaccessible. In 2009, however, we introduced 17,000 km of undersea fibre optic cable to the Eastern and Southern coasts of Africa, which resulted in a significant fall of wholesale prices for direct fibre.

Today, the rapid digitalisation of business and consumer activities requires greater speeds, reduced latency, and more flexible network architecture to meet rising data demands. With the fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G, at our doorstep, networks are set to benefit from up to 1,000 times more data transmission capacity to more devices, 10 times lower latency, as well as ‘network slicing’ capabilities – which will help prioritise specific users, services, or devices during network overloads.

What is important to keep in mind, however, is that fibre will remain the backbone of wireless networks such as 5G. The speed and reliability of 5G relies on the strength of fibre networks that carry traffic to and from 5G transmitters. The rollout of 5G and other new forms of connectivity, such as low Earth orbit satellites, will also take time before they become widely accessible and reliable. Businesses cannot afford to stay idle until that happens, which is why investment in fibre will remain essential for the foreseeable future.

The future is in the cloud

Since the start of the pandemic, businesses have been forced to pivot towards online activity. Whether catering for customers who need online functionality, or employees who are working from home, the sudden digital migration has necessitated better network infrastructure. Organisations are also now faced with the possibility that things may not go back to the way they used to be. The pandemic has advanced digital transformation, with companies reporting that they’ve accelerated the digitisation of customer and supply-chain interactions and internal operations by three to four years. Hybrid work models are not only preferred by many employees, but they are also presenting companies with significant cost savings in some cases.

For these reasons, cloud adoption will become increasingly important for both innovation and operational continuity. Businesses can take advantage of cloud-based applications or hosted servers for enhanced mobility, or enable remote teams to connect with each other more effectively through cloud communications.

Still, many private businesses and public institutions in East Africa are not yet fully embracing cloud technology due to insufficient knowledge, unclear regulations, and cost and security concerns. Inadequate access to fast and reliable connectivity is another obstacle, without which cloud services cannot function properly. For Kenya to take advantage of the opportunities of the cloud, businesses and government will need to work together to develop more stable and accessible network infrastructure.

The next generation of networks

Because of the increased digitisation of services, cloud adoption, and the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices, networks are being challenged in ways never seen before. From 2020 to 2025, African data traffic is expected to grow by 12 times, which is why businesses will need more flexible network solutions to meet the exponential growth in digital demand.

A software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) provides a modern network solution for modern business requirements. It allows businesses to manage every aspect of their network through a centralised overlay that shows all of its connections, regardless of what cloud platform or Internet provider they come from. IT managers can use SD-WAN tech to optimise bandwidth usage and costs, run cloud applications more efficiently, and strengthen network security.

SD-WAN offers business networks far more control, visibility, and flexibility than traditional network solutions such as wide area networks (WANs), virtual private networks (VPNs), or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). To meet increasingly complex network requirements, businesses will need future-ready networks, like SD-WANs.

Preparation and partnership are key

In the years to come, those who can fully utilise digital technologies will remain at the forefront of their industries. Data traffic and the demand for connected services are increasing exponentially, and businesses will need a clear connectivity strategy that looks at where they are now – and where they need to be in the future – to prepare for the next generation of innovative technologies.

The best way for businesses to prepare their networks is by partnering with a reliable cloud and connectivity provider that can offer high-quality and scalable services to meet their unique business requirements. A dramatic digital acceleration is underway, and connectivity provides the foundation for tomorrow’s digital economy. Is your business network ready for the future?

Patrick Ndegwa is Business Sales Lead for SEACOM East Africa.

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