LOCAL and international experts have agreed that Uganda is using an outdated and inadequate cable for its Internet backbone infrastructure. The G652 type has small bandwidth and will not be able to cater for Uganda’s current needs, let alone provide for future growth.
One expert compared it with guiding traffic from a 10-lane road onto a one-lane road, leading to huge traffic jams.
Experts also predict the system will frequently break down as a result of low reachable distance of the optic signal, which will require many booster stations.
Instead, Uganda should use the newer G655 cable, the type being used in neighbouring Rwanda, according to the parliamentary committee for ICT and the newly established National Information Technology Authority.
Yet, despite orders to stop the works pending a review of the project, the Chinese company, Huawei Technologies, is continuing, burning more of the sh212b budget every day. The project is financed through a loan from the Chinese Exim Bank, which Uganda has to pay back over a period of 20 years.
The Chinese government sourced and recommended the company. There was no tender and no properly detailed needs assessment study.
Conditional ‘aid’ has produced many white elephants all over Africa – expensive but useless projects where the donor’s interests prevailed over the recipient’s needs and interests.
This particular project, if proven to be another white elephant, will not only mean wasting sh212b. It will have far-reaching consequences for Uganda’s future development.
The UN has estimated that every 1% increase in internet penetration results into a $593 increment to GDP per capita. Uganda cannot afford to miss the ICT train, which would allow it to leapfrog into the 21st Century.
The Chinese government, through its embassy, should prevail upon Huawei to immediately stop the works and allow for an independent technical audit based on a proper needs assessment study.
This would be in line with the five cornerstones for Africa-China cooperation as formulated first in 1996 by President Jiang Zemin: sincere friendship, equality, cooperation, common development and looking towards the future.
Google said its mobile services in China were fully accessible or subject only to small-scale blocking, upgrading them late on Wednesday from "partially blocked" on a status page.
The change could signal an easing of tensions after the Internet search giant angered China by ending censorship of search results for users in the country. The status change means most Chinese users should have no problem accessing Google search from their mobile phones, even though Google is allowing politically sensitive search results to appear.
Tests on two mobile phones with GPRS data connections in Beijing showed Google's Hong Kong search site could be accessed on Thursday in China. That site was unavailable in a similar test last week. Google's mobile services include search, maps and news.
Users in China may still face troubles because the services censored by local mobile network operators around the country can vary, and Google's status label still means its services could see some blocking.
Google last month began redirecting Chinese users from its old China-based search site, Google.cn, to its Hong Kong site at Google.com.hk. Google had conformed to Chinese government demands to censor results on its China search engine, but that content -- such as certain information about the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader -- will turn up in results on its Hong Kong site.
There has been some fallout. China was quick to condemn Google's move as "totally wrong." One China partner, Web portal owner Tom Online, dropped Google and turned to rival Baidu.com for search service on its site after Google's announcement. Mobile carrier China Unicom has said it does not plan to put Google search on its phones.
Google's China status page this week also started listing its Picasa photo-sharing service as fully blocked. Picasa has long been inaccessible in China, but the status page previously listed it as partially blocked. A Google spokeswoman confirmed Picasa was blocked in China.
The status page began listing Google's mobile services as partially blocked in China over a week ago.
While Google's move from China to Hong Kong means it is no longer censoring results itself, China controls the flow of Internet data from all Web sites outside the country via the Great Firewall, a term that describes the servers and software dedicated to filtering traffic. That means that Chinese users will still have problems loading certain search results pages from Google's Hong Kong site, or clicking through some links.
China requires all companies operating Web sites inside its borders to censor material that is politically sensitive or morally undesirable, such as pornography. All Web sites outside of China face the Great Firewall as a barrier.
Hong Kong, while technically part of China, runs under special rules negotiated by China and the U.K. before the British government handed back the territory in 1997, including certain freedoms of speech.
Traffic between Hong Kong and China is subject to filtering by the Great Firewall because Hong Kong is considered outside the mainland's domestic Internet, said Andrew Lih, a professor of journalism and director of new media at the University of Southern California, in a blog post. He said users often see a "connection reset" message when a search is interrupted by the firewall.
Some local-language searches by users in China on Google.com.hk appear to be subject to less censorship than they are on self-censoring sites like that run by Baidu, China's largest Internet search provider. Other searches face far stricter controls.
A search from Beijing in simplified Chinese for terms such as 'Tiananmen Square incident,' referring to the day in 1989 when Chinese tanks rolled into central Beijing and crushed a student-led pro-democracy movement, return politically sensitive results. Similar searches on Baidu return sites with less sensitive content, making the company's censorship appear more effective than that done by China's Great Firewall. However, a similar search on Google.com.hk about the Dalai Lama, who Beijing accuses of seeking independence for Tibet, turns up a connection reset, a sign the Great Firewall is at work.
Some less controversial searches from Beijing on Google.com.hk also suffer. Searches for any simplified Chinese term that includes the surnames of China's top leaders, President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping, lead to a connection reset, so Chinese users can't see any information about them. The trouble extends to a number of harmless words that use the characters Hu, Wen and Xi. For example, the Chinese word for "temperature" -- "wen du" -- returns a connection reset, as does the word for "to study" -- "xue xi."
A Google spokesperson said some sensitive terms are being blocked by China's firewall and noted that "this behavior of the firewall is not unique to Google.com.hk, it occurs with any domain located outside the firewall."
Leading information communications technology (ICT) practitioners and professionals in the West African region are set to storm the Titans of Tech 2010 Conference and Exhibition.
Titans of Tech is a platform created to showcase ICT trends, educate Nigeria policy makers, government and the business community of existing and emerging products in the industry and their applications in the economy.
The Titans of Tech 2010 is scheduled to take place from Thursday, April 15 to Friday, April 16, 2010 at the Lagoon Restaurant, in Lagos with the theme: "Harnessing ICTs for National Development."
Organizers (Technology Africa) of the event revealed that among those confirmed for the event include Basil Udotai, Managing Partner, Technology Advisors who would speak on the topic Between Broadband Access And Cyber Security: Striking A Balance, Gerald Ilukwe, MD, Galaxy Backbone on Making e_Governance a reality, and Professor Clement Dzidonu, president Accra Institute of Technology is expected to speak on the Role of eGovernance in national development.
Others are Sudhir Bisht, Chief Operating Officer, Swap Technologies, Sustaining Telecommunications Sector growth through co_location of infrastructure, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, National President of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) who would handle the topic Deploying cost effective Broadband infrastructure, and James Agada _ Executive Director, Computer Warehouse Group, speaking on Software Nigeria: Myth or Reality among other high_powered speakers.
Giving the profiles of the resource personnel, Aganbi noted that James Agada was a highly regarded professional, particularly in the IT industry where he has spent over 10 years building a career in consulting, software development, implementation and support. He oversees Computer Warehouse Group's Software Subsidiary: ExpertEdge Software and coordinates all Research and Development for the Group. He is also a member of the Institute Of Directors (IOD) and was protem president, Lagos Chapter of the Nigeria Computer Society.
On Sudhir Bisht, he said that the 45 year old Indian COO and Executive Director of SWAP Technologies & Telecomms Plc, Sudhir Bisht has 23 years of rich experience in the areas of Operations, Logistics, Warehousing, Sales _ Retail as well as industrial marketing. He has also been into strategy formulation and restructuring assignments. Sudhir Bisht has spent 18 years of his 23 working years with Fortune 500 companies.
Dr. Emmanuel E. Ekuwem is also CEO of Teledom Group, an indigenous conglomerate company with expertise in Broadband ICT infrastructure development, deployment and software development for Telecom process automation
He is a member of the telecommunications industry consultative and advisory forum of the Nigerian communication commission (NCC) among many other associations. He is a much sought after seminal presence across West Africa.
He is a member of the Council of the Informatics Development Institute, Ireland and a Senior Research Fellow of the International Institute of Information Technology (INIIT). He has also taught and conducted research at several renowned universities abroad and worked for a number of information and communication-technology related projects and initiatives in Europe and Africa. These include work for governments, companies, NGOs and international agencies - including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the International Development Research Center (IDRC) Commission of Experts for the West and Central Africa Region
Aganbi noted that several resource persons from within the government have also confirmed participation.
He added that with the growing number of would be exhibitors the organisers have been constrained to increase the number of exhibition booths to accommodate interested companies.
Now in its fifth edition Titans of Tech 2010 will provide networking with West Africa's leading telecommunications service providers and the corporate world of enterprise network managers and business users.
The Uganda Communications Commission and the Broadcasting Council have been merged into one regulatory body that will oversee both communication and broadcasting matters in the country.
The new policy directive issued on 15 March was communicated by the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Aggrey Awori, and published in the Uganda Gazette.
A body headed by the current chairperson of the Broadcasting Council, Godfrey Mutabazi, will be set up to manage the transition.
It will be overseen by a board comprising members from the two boards of the merging organisations, which will be headed by the current head of the Communications Commission, A.M.S. Katahoire.
Under the new framework, the ICT ministry will also take over the management of the national spectrum (airwaves) and the transmission infrastructure from the Ministry of Information and National Guidance.
According to the directive, the transitional body will be merged at both the board and administrative levels.
“The primary role of the transitional board and executive shall be to oversee and conclude the process of drafting a new law and establishing the merged regulator for both communications and broadcasting in accordance with best practices and international standards,” the directive said.
Awori mandated the transitional body to form working committees for the efficient discharge of its duties.
“While the board will oversee the process of merging the two regulators, it will also continue to carry out the functions specified in the Uganda Communications Act and the Electronic Media Act of 1997.
“Where the functions require specific focus, pertaining to communications, the members who were commissioners under the UCC may constitute themselves into a communications committee to handle the matter and keep the board updated,” the directive says.
Where the matter pertains to broadcasting, the directive added, members who belonged to the Broadcasting Council would constitute a broadcasting committee to deal with the issues and update the board.
“The Broadcasting Council and the Uganda Communications Commission are instructed to work out the administrative details of the new structure,” it further said.
“The transitional body shall continue to carry out the functions of the two regulators until the functions of the merged regulator are provided for by the new law,” it said.
The two laws shall continue to exist and provide the regulatory framework for the transitional merger until a new converged legislation is enacted.
“The Uganda Communications Commission and the Broadcasting Council may conclude the details of this arrangement through a memorandum of understanding on the modalities of the day-to-day operations,” the directive said.
Kenya's biggest tTelecommunication solutions firm Safaricom has disclosed that it will seek permission from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) to start testing 4G technology in the country.
Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Michael Joseph said following the success of 3G on which they have an estimated 3.5 million customers, they intend to roll out the new service which will enable their customers to enjoy faster internet speeds and downloads.
“The reason why we are looking at testing 4G is that it is a natural growth from 3G as it gives you more bandwidth and more speeds. There’s demand out there but the challenge now is getting the price of a 3G phone down to come down,” he said.
Safaricom is the only network operating the 3G technology in Kenya which although it acknowledges is a very costly venture, reckons that it has the potential to give them good returns. Currently it has 500 base stations across the country and intends to set up another 500 this year to enable it play a role in the mobile data revolution.
“It (4G technology) all depends on when we get the spectrum because it operates on different frequencies but hopefully it will be this year,” he added while downplaying any protests that might be staged by his competitors some of whom are yet to introduce the 3G services into the market citing the spectrum costs of Sh1.9 billion which is prohibitive.
Contrary to speculation across the world that such technology would not be ideal for Africa, Mr Joseph said the continent was ready for the rollout of such infrastructure which can provide connectivity and bring government services closer to the people.
“I believe that Africa is more ready for 4G than any other part of the world because we need it to bring many benefits for services such as e-voting, e-learning, e-medicine to the people,” he emphasised.
Speaking during the opening of the Connected Government Summit in Mombasa, the CEO said his firm will this year invest Sh23 billion to expand and upgrade its data infrastructure as it gears up to offer reliable services to all Kenyans.
“In two years time, our network will be completely IP (Internet Protocol) based to enable us offer high quality and cost effective services as well as faster speeds,” he said while pointing out that last year, they pumped in Sh21billion in infrastructure development.
Despite having huge capacity on both TEAMS and SEACOM fibre optic cables, the company is still relying on satellite connection for redundancy. Mr Joseph said this was partly due to the five year contracts they have with the providers and secondly because the two submarine cables landed in Mombasa at one point which can make the vulnerable.
To address this situation, he said they were negotiating with the government to connect to Namanga and then wait for Tanzanian operators to bring their cables to the other side of the border from where Safaricom can connect to Dar-es-salaam. This he pointed out, is what would give them the confidence to release the expensive satellite capacity.
Once this is done, it will see costs of connectivity come down and this coupled with access to affordable equipment, would play a big role in bridging the digital divide in the country. Mr Joseph said the company was looking for a computer manufacturing company that would provide computers at a fee of approximately Sh15,000 ($200) which is within the reach of many Kenyans.
He pointed out that the cost of digital devices such as laptops and netbook was equally prohibitive thus the need to find affordable ways of bringing into the market equipment that are reasonably priced.
While underscoring Safaricom’s commitment to assist the government increase Internet penetration in the country, he disclosed that they have already established 450 digital villages to increase data penetration across in the country
However, he decried the lack of skilled technical support to assist in the maintenance, installation and those who can offer after sales services to their customers.
The CEO added that they were in talks with various universities to put up a special college that would train people on data technical support in order to achieve the dream of making Kenya a true ICT hub.
Speaking at the same forum, Information Minister Samuel Poghisio challenged investors to fully utilise the three fibre optic cables in the country and exploit opportunities in content, software and e-commerce development so as to change the way Kenyans consume ICT.
He observed that the country now has good infrastructure in place and all that remains is to make use of them to create employment opportunities and spur economic growth.
“We encourage our local ICT entrepreneurs to invest in coming up with innovation so as to create competitive advantage in the region and globally,” the minister said while assuring that together with other ministries, they were working to ensure they put in place good regulatory policies that can support such growth.
Participants heard that regulations have been formulated to govern partnerships between the two parties and they were therefore challenged to come up with ways of implementing projects that would help the country attain its long term development goals.
The conference which brought ICT players from the private and public sector provided a platform for collaboration, capacity building and knowledge sharing among the participants.