Monday, April 09, 2012

Frontier bursting - the setup of Kenya's Internet Exchange Point - KIXP

Note: This piece is an excerpt from a paper published by Summit Strategies in 2006 which evaluated the impact of KIXP between 2002-2006

Frontier bursting   the local internet space -   the case of Brian Longwe, 2006

One of the things that always puzzled me during the early days of our country’s Internet and while I was network manager for one of our first Internet Service Providers was the incredible delays on delivery of electronic mail to other local providers. After running a number of different diagnostics it became apparent that messages from my network to another local ISPs network – were going out of the country, to Europe, then across the Pacific ocean to the USA, then over to Asia before finding their way to their destination which was in many cases literally across the street!

This was obviously an unacceptable state of affairs and the subject of this inefficient routing of local traffic came up several times in discussions at the East African Internet Association (EAIA) – a group that I was involved in that brought together providers and consumers alike to share knowledge and experiences gained from the information-rich Internet. During these discussions various suggestions were tabled as to how we could deal with this problem, but none of them had the ring of truth to them that gave one the deep certainty that the problem once solved would remain solved.

Kenya Internet Exchange Point Losing it's Relevance?

About 7 or 8 years ago, when I was still on the board of directors of TESPOK, I suggested a governance structure that gave KIXP independence from TESPOK, it's 'mother' institution. The main rationale here was to ensure that KIXP maintains a separate, independent existence, regardless of what happened to TESPOK. 

This was during a TESPOK strategy meeting where the key message was "The African ISP is dead, long live the African ISP" based on a paper by Russell Southwood of Balancing Act Africa. The essence of which was that with the onslaught of mobile operators going into internet access provision, the only way that ISPs would survive would be through consolidation via mergers/acquisition or a complete redefinition of business focus and strategy. What was evident to me (but seemingly not to others) was that as the ISP industry transformed, there would be fewer players, and thus, less democracy - especially with regards to governance issues. 

At the same time, KIXP was attracting plenty of interest from non-ISPs and already had non-ISP members such as KENIC, KRA and others - it was evident that the interest would continue, especially as the sector evolved with greater participation from content creators, hosting companies, data-centres etc... KIXP would become the de-facto facility for providing industry actors with data interconnection and interchange.

For those of you unfamiliar with KIXP's history - in 2001 we had to register a company KIXP Ltd, and file for an IXP license from CCK, in order to become operational after the forced closure of the IXP in 2000. My proposal was that KIXP Ltd be given full autonomy from TESPOK, have a board of directors appointed by members in full standing, and be run as a business, similar to LINX in the UK, and other successful IXPs around the world. As part of my proposals I shared the attached diagram (which I have just found in my archives). The Board would identify and appoint a CEO, who would then identify suitable staff to meet organisational growth. Being a business, some implied issues were self-sustainability, a business plan with clear growth, and social or financial returns for the 'shareholders'.

My proposals fell upon deaf ears and it is sad for me now to see a frail and seemingly weak KIXP that cannot seem to consistently engage newcomers to the industry with the benefits of local traffic exchange.

A simple question - how many of the TEAMs/SEACOM/EASSY bandwidth-holders are peering at KIXP? As mentioned by someone else concerned about optimal traffic flows in Kenya, some of our local traffic is being exchanged in exotic places like Mumbai, London etc instead of right here at home.

So, I continue shaking my head...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A small step for Government but a leap for Kenya

Today a story broken by the Daily Nation had the sensational headline "CCK Sparks Row with Fresh Bid to Spy on Internet Users". The story has triggered a very lively debate both in conventional broadcast as well as online media. While many feel threatened about the alleged invasion of their privacy, some of the more clued up are welcoming this development. The 'row' alluded to by the author the DN article seems to be attributed to some telecoms service providers reactions towards letters received from the CCK requiring them to cooperate in the installation of internet traffic monitoring equipment which the article refers to as "Network Early Warning System (NEWS)". Apparently CCK has clearly stated that the system will support the country's ability to detect and facilitate response to possible cyber threats.

Kenya as a country has had her fair share of threats, both online or in the form of cyber-threats as well as in real life. The most significant of these was the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi which took place on August 8th 1998 (a day before my wedding!) and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. The bombing, which took place simultaneously with a similar attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was attributed to Al-Qaeda, the fundamentalist terrorist group associated with Osama bin Laden. The 1998 incident cast a spotlight on Kenya's low level of preparedness to deal with major disasters and also raised a lot of questions about our ability as a country to gather intelligence and act on it.

A grenade blast which killed two and and led to the near capture of one of the most wanted Al-Qaeda terrorists at a cybercafe in Mombasa in 2003 in an operation carried out jointly between Kenyan and CIA operatives was a result of close coordination between security agencies as well as the use of "high tech gear, low tech human intelligence and courage". Part of the high tech gear involved in this operation allowed the security officers to track and monitor "patterns" of online communication that allowed them to close in on the terrorists. In this incident and a few other similar ones it has always been reported that the "Kenyan authorities used information provided by" [foreign nation], why can't we have our own capability to gather such information? Especially when it seems that the terrorists use online technologies for much of their planning.

It is therefore my opinion that the move by Kenya to improve her ability to detect and facilitate response to cyber-threats is a small step for the Government but a huge leap for the country. This exercise, coupled with the impending setup of the Kenya Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre (KE-CIRT/CC) with support from the ITU will go a long way towards enhancing the Government's obligation to protect her citizens.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Intense Twitter Debate on Tech Business Brings Kenya's Top Minds Face-to-Face at NaiLab on Friday 9th

The last 24 hours has seen an interesting twitter debate, if you missed it then you need to follow @pkukubo (Paul Kukubo), @blongwe (Brian Longwe), @kenyanpundit, @mikemachariaSST (Mike Macharia Seven Seas) and David Ndungu @davidndugu.

On request from @agostal and @kenyanpundit and accepted by all, its time to move from behind the keypads and have a debate that can accommodate more than 140 characters The Request: A forum that will allow you to express yourself, is government being fair in awarding Multi National Companies tenders yet claiming to develop local tech business, do we have local capacity to handle some of these
contracts?, are local tech companies being recruitment centers for the MNCs? Should private business depend on government contracts for growth? Are the same local companies giving smaller Startups and SME's similar opportunities... hard talk? maybe, the debate will be moderated by some of Kenyans best.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Of Gateways and Gatekeepers: The History of Internet Exchange Points in Kenya and Rwanda

An excerpt from "At the Crossroads: ICT Policy Making in East AFrica" © International Development Research Centre 2005, First Published 2005, ISBN 9966-25-439-0

Note: This piece chronicles the role I played in setting up KIXP between 2000 and 2002


The Internet in Africa has been growing steadily over the past several years and is beginning to play a significant role in Africa's development, creating employment, providing opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as acting as an enabler in the digital delivery of government services, education, radio, and healthcare among others. The new possibilities provided by Internet technologies present African countries with an opportunity to leapfrog phases of development and make use of the most recent innovations to establish a strong information society and increase the distribution of wealth among the populace, thereby addressing the poverty that has plagued the continent to date.

Fighting for What’s Right: The Kenya Internet Exchange Point

By Brian Longwe
Excerpt from "African CSOs Speak on the World Summit on the Information Society"
© Economic Commission for Africa November 2005

"Wait and see, we will shut you down!" These ominous words came from a senior Telkom Kenya manager to the Chairman of the Telecommunications Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK) regarding the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP). TESPOK had just launched KIXP amidst much acclaim and fanfare, but the events that followed clearly showed that some people were far from happy with this positive development in Kenya's Internet growth.

The warning was carried out and within hours. Telkom had disconnected all ISPs links into KIXP on the basis of a hastily made decision by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) that KIXP was operating illegally. These events, which took place in November 2000, marked the beginning of what will probably be remembered as the biggest regulatory battle in Kenya's history and a key defining moment for Kenya's Internet industry.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Are you an unclear reactor?

No, that was not a spelling mistake or typo, I did not mean to write 'nuclear reactor' - I meant to write UNclear reactor. What do I mean? Well, the word reactor is defined as "a person or thing that reacts or
undergoes reaction", another definition simply describes a reactor as "one that reacts to a stimulus". Our daily lives are full of all kinds of stimulus, some good, some bad, some fun, some boring, some
exciting, some mediocre - and we all react to these various stimuli in different ways. These reactions manifest themselves in a multiplicity of actions that we carry out on a daily basis that end up defining
what we do with the limited amount of time we have each day. The manner in which we react and order our reactions to these daily demands is what determines the kind of reactor we are. Whether we are efficient and effective or whether we are muddled up, messy and unclear.

How then, do we go about achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness in our busy lives? How do we sift through the numerous demands placed on us for our time and attention and prioritise? How do
we ensure that the critical essentials are taken care of? This is where the big rock approach towards time management comes in. Let me explain.

Submarine cable cut cripples Kenya's Internet

While details surrounding the circumstances and exact time that the
TEAMs cable got damaged are as yet unclear, the incident has severely
affected Internet services in Kenya and neighboring countries.

The East African Marine Systems - commonly known as TEAMs was a
project initiated by the Kenyan government and implemented as a public
private partnership consisting mostly of Kenyan network operators. The
1.3 Terabit system, which launched with a lit capacity of 120 Gigabits
has completely transformed the quality and performance of Internet
services in the sub-region.

It seems that the cable cut occurred at some point around mid-day on
Saturday the 25th of February and was noticeable via most mobile
operators and Internet service providers' services being unavailable.
Immediate efforts to seek backup services from SEACOM, another
submarine cable that serves the region as well as backup satellite
connections resulted in partial restoration of services, although for
some Internet customers these came as late as Sunday morning.

It is reported that the cable cut has occurred about 4 kilometers into
the ocean on the Kenyan side. The cable which links Kenya's coastal
city of Mombasa to Fujairah in the Middle East, interconnects with a
variety of other International submarine cable systems to link
Africa's eastern seaboard to the rest of the world.

This first major incident will be a true test of the fault response
and repair capabilities of Alcatel, the organization that holds the
maintenance and support contract for TEAMs.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wanna be hip in Kenya? Get a DSLR

I want a camera! No…. let me be more specific…. I want a DSLR camera (Digital SLR camera). And I have also realized that if I expect to be perceived as someone who is in touch with the times I must have a DSLR camera. This realization has gradually dawned upon me over the past several weeks as I have observed the increase in proliferation of these somewhat mystical but genuinely sexy gadgets. Mystical because there is a kind of magic that happens when a DSLR is in the hands of someone who knows how to use it and the images that come out of that union are, to say the least, breathtaking. Sexy because the damn gadgets have plenty of buttons, bells and whistles and seemingly cannot be discreetly hidden but bulge, protrude and hang openly with their naked charm out there for everybody to see.

While "keeping up with the Joneses" is something that is generally frowned upon let's face it, people like things, and from time to time there will be that gizmo, that gadget, that must-have doodad, that
makes a social statement which clearly separates the goats from the sheep. The current item that is clearly marking the more progressive in Kenyan middle-class society is the digital SLR camera.
One only has to grace a school swimming gala, graduation or wedding to see the very visible display of DSLR cameras. It is not uncommon to
have tens and tens of Nikon, Canon and Sony DSLR devices hanging around the necks, over the shoulders and in the grips of young urban
professionals at these events. In much the same way that a mobile phone seemed to convey upon it's bearer the appearance of being progressive, techno-savvy and socially fluent, the DSLR camera has solidly stamped it's authority as one of the modern labels of social standing.

While for many it serves purely as a status symbol and practically is used in much the same way cheaper point-and-shoot digital cameras are, there are those who have genuinely caught the photography bug and actively invest in and practice the art as a hobby outside of their day jobs and careers. Those who have distinguished themselves include the likes of Mutua Matheka, David Kiania and Mark Muinde, all of whom have set up online portfolios that hold some breathtaking photographic works of art. While Mutua seems to have become a favorite wedding photographer for young, modern couples, David's work tends to consist largely of events where he bravely captures candid moments that carry the feeling and experience of the moment. Mark and his partner have distinguished themselves with a dedicated stock photography site where they hold what can only be
described as photographs that capture the African experience in imagery that shows both the traditional and non-traditional aspects of African and especially Kenyan society and environment.

So now I hope you understand why I must have a DSLR camera. It remains to be seen whether it will serve simply as my statement of social "with-it-ness" or whether I will actually develop the skills and
knowledge on how to wield the DSLR camera as part of the art that uses images to talk and touch and feel. And, since you asked, the DSLR that I am saving and scraping every red cent that I can spare for is the Nikon D-7000 *swoon*

Monday, January 16, 2012

TriplePlay service in my house

After arriving back in Kenya from an extended time away (close to 18 months), I decided that it would be more economical to set up a cable connection to the house and subscribe to broadband, TV and voice services with local Triple Play provider Zuku. At first I tried to access their website to obtain details on what the connection would cost, in terms of packages available, equipment requirements, setup costs, and monthly subscription. This proved futile as for some reason, my Safaricom 3G connection was rendering me very slow access to the media rich Zuku website. I opted to send an email to the sales email address listed on their website.

Having not received a response by mid-morning the next day, I decided to post a message to the local tech mailing list "Skunkworks" asking for help in making contact with Zuku. As usual I got a lot of very helpful responses, made a couple of phone calls and within 1 hour had a sales representative sitting in my dining room taking me through the various packages and options. I couldn't decide which TV package to get because he didn't have the printed TV Guide with the channel listings so we agreed that he would email it to me later and we would pick up the following day.

The next day, after reviewing the channel listings, I decided on the package I wanted, stopped by the sales office in my neighborhood and made the payment for installation and first month's service. I then went home to wait. Within less than 1 hours a technical team was on site doing the installation and 1 hour later I was flipping channels on my TV. It took a little longer to get the internet and telephone service up because the provisioning involved the installers getting a "customer code" and linking it to my service type. Nevertheless, within 2 hours I had blazing fast broadband (I chose the 8MB shared service) and a working telephone line in the house.

All I can say is that I was very impressed at the service. Having run ISPs for close to 10 years myself I know how hard it is to get a smooth transition between sale, service subscription, installation, configuration and commissioning. Zuku seems to have gotten it right.