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BEN ROBERTS: At the cusp of change, the Internet Engineering Task Force adds an African voice to the institution


The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has recently announced the appointment of Andrew Alston to the position of Routing Area Director. Andrew, born in South Africa and now settled in Kenya becomes the first African resident to be appointed to a senior management position at this esteemed institution. 

The IETF is a large open international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet. This includes work involving the standardisation of such technologies as MPLS, BGP, Segment Routing, OSPF and so much more. 

Here at Liquid Intelligent Technologies, where Andrew is the Chief Technology Officer of Liquid Labs, our Research and Development Division, we know that the needs of the network are diverse and varied, and that the standards the IETF develops must consider the many differing requirements found across the Globe. Building networks in Africa throws up some unique challenges and opportunities arising from vast distances and rugged terrain between cities, varying levels of internet infrastructure development and an ever-changing policy and regulatory environment. It is therefore critical that Africa has participation in the development and creation of the standards that build this internet.

When Andrew was nominated for the role of Routing Area Director, I encouraged him to run for the position, knowing that our customers and African nations will continue to benefit from the advanced technologies that are coming out from the IETF. 

At Liquid, our core philosophy is to leave no African behind, meaning that African networks need to be equipped with the technologies that allow it grow and thrive. Liquid has built a network that spans the length and breadth of the African continent from Cape to Cairo and Mombasa to Kinshasa and the network now spans over 100 thousand kilometers of fiber and crosses borders in dozens of locations. We have paved the way in implementing technologies like IPv6 and Segment Routing. But just what do these advanced technologies mean for Africans? 

IPv6 is a basic necessity, since there just are not enough IPv4 addresses left to give an IP (Internet Protocol) address to every African, whereas segment routing enables us to uniquely steer traffic so that the majority of our customers get the most affordable internet, while others with specific technical needs get to route to the closest critical server over the shortest possible path for high performance of their business applications.

On behalf of Liquid Intelligent Technologies, we all congratulate Andrew on this appointment. I am sure that he will bring a unique perspective to the IETF and that with his depth of experience building the largest networks on the continent and high level of technical skill he can carry the African torch into the IETF as an ambassador to our community, uplifting the voices of others. Our own Research and Development is focused on solving the issues of all network operators globally, starting by addressing some ‘Unique African Challenges’ that we see in our operations. Certainly, rather than just absorbing technology designed for other markets, I believe that Africa can be a true leader in network technology development, just as it has become in the Financial Technology (Fintech) world and leading the way in implementation of off grid renewable energy solutions.

The recent announcement of Liquid joining the Cassava Technologies group, brings the company into the leading group of Networks, Cloud, Renewable Energy and Fintech on the continent.  In all these sectors we see innovative technologies coming to address the big challenges of Africa. And by working with organisations like IETF to develop open standards, then we can ensure the longevity and interoperability of those innovations.

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