• Connectivity
  • Africa's connectivity's a long and winding road

    The story of connecting Africa’s computer users seems a bit like George Harrison’s “Long and Winding Road.” The Economist has a story of Liquid Telecom, one of the pioneers. It’s a sister company of Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile-telecoms provider, Econet Wireless. Liquid Telecom’s main commercial motivation is to gain and sustain a range of commercial organisations as customers. Health and healthcare don’t seem to be in its sights yet. Despite this, Liquid Telecom is laying down a network that can offer a capability for health and healthcare users.

    Its network is 17,000 km long and growing. It extends across twelve countries and prefers to rely on long-term leases for capacity because they’re cheaper than using the undersea cables. Using satellite in its early days proved too expensive and too slow for large data volumes.

    Large companies reserve their own capacity on Liquid Telecom’s network. As the network expands, and African countries rely more on eHealth solutions, data transfer and Health Information exchange (HIE), it’s easy to see how health and healthcare organisations could collaborate to do the same. There could be a range of financing models to create the opportunities to procure large-scale connection capacity from Liquid Telecom and other providers in the market.

    An estimate of current cable coverage in Africa is between 60 to 80 metres per user. In Europe, it’s 5 metres. It’s improving. Liquid Telecoms is laying about 100m of cable each week, but there’s still a lot more to do before it “leads to your door.”

  • Connect free today in a SOWETO taxi

    Imagine life without Internet connectivity. Most of us can’t, though staying connected as we move around town can be a pain. Starting yesterday there’s some pain relief for public taxi commuters in South Africa’s famous SOWETO, with taxis drivers and commuters smiling the length of Vilakazi Street. The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) has launched one of Africa’s first free Wi-Fi Internet services on-board minibus taxis.

    Santaco has partnered with Telkom to roll out Wi-Fi connections to 1,500 taxis over the next six months. Commuters receive 50Meg free per month on 3G and 4G.

    “This innovative improvement in our service offering is part of our long-term strategy to turn around the taxi industry into a world-class taxi service,” said Santaco president Philip Taaibosch according to News24. He has an ambitious plan and knows that this is just the beginnig. “We want to keep our 15 million daily commuters and attract more people back to using public transport in general and taxis in particular.”

    Santaco describes the project as a major step towards its goal of providing a world class taxi service. The Wi-Fi is convenient, saving business people and social-chatters precious time while they are on the road.

    It’s another opportunity to connect with people around their health and healthcare needs too. eHNA looks forward to reporting on which of the numerous mHealth Apps and services appearing online will be first to take advantage of it.

    Travelling by taxi in Africa is an experience not to be missed. Now there’s more reason to enjoy the ride.

  • Are mesh networks part of Africa's connectivity solution?

    African countries have considerable connectivity challenges. Options for solutions seem too dear and too slow. Wireless Mesh Networks (WMN) is an emerging technology and may help. How Stuff Works is a website that does what its name says. It has a web page for WMN. It says that it “may bring the dream of a seamlessly connected world into reality.” The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has a PDF on WMNs by Stony Brook University, New York.

    WMN’s opportunities raises five questions:

    What’s MSN Will it do what How Stuff Works says it might Will it help connectivity in Africa How long will it take How much will it cost?

    So far, only the first question has an answer. Answers to the others are still judgements.

    WMNs have connections spread out among lots of WMNs that talk to each other to share the network connection across large areas. WMNs are small radio transmitters like wireless routers. The nodes use the common WiFi standards 802.11a, b and g to communicate with users and each other. These WMNs easily, effectively and wirelessly connect entire cities using inexpensive, existing technology.

    Traditional networks rely on a small number of wired access points or wireless hotspots to connect users.

    For a community, WMNs offer:

    Grass-roots wireless networks Shared Internet connections via gateways Peer-to-peer neighbourhood applications.

    These offer viable opportunities for developing countries and rural areas. For them to work as a connectivity solution for remote African locations, they need lots of smartphones.

    Where WMNs arise, African health services can look to use them. An emerging, organic solution may await.

  • Public wifi is public, so risky

    Logging on to public wi-fi hotspots usually has a greeting saying that the links are open and not secure. It seems that cyber-criminals think that enough users disregard the warnings, so it’s worth spending time hacking into them.

    Europol’s cybercrime chief, Troels Oerting, told BBC Click that there’s a continued growth in cyber-attacks attempted through public wi-fi. His says that people should only send personal and sensitive data across networks they trusted, so not use public wi-fi. If they do, they risk hackers stealing it.

    The hacking techniques aren’t sophisticated. Hackers use a Man in the Middle set up where thieves place themselves between users and hotspots, then gather all data passing between the two points. This tricks users into connecting to a hotspot that looks legitimate and similar to the ones in cafes, pubs, restaurants, airports and other public places. The European Parliament recently switched off its public wi-fi system when it found that a Man in the Middle had penetrated the service.

    Healthcare ICT teams should advise all their users that everything they send through wi-fi is at risk, and is exposed to greater risks when using public wi-fi hotspots, so patients’ health data should never be transmitted across public wi-fi services. Better awareness should help. Complete compliance will help more.

  • Are lasers a connectivity solution for African healthcare?

    Jedi knights had their light sabers. Now, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) have their laser beams to communicate faster than before. Yoda would love it.

    On the BBC, Mike Persico, chief executive of Anova Technologies is the firm providing the new, technology. Mike Persico, explained that lasers travelling through air are faster and cheaper than signals transmitted by fibre optics where the glass components slow them down. Lasers are roughly twice as fast.

    This may offer new solutions for healthcare’s connectivity limitations in Africa. If laser communications are much cheaper than fibre optic and satellite links, expanded connectivity becomes more sustainable. Expanded links are more important than speed. Darth Vader was never that quick.

  • Malawi exceeds its connectivity target

    Improving connectivity is vital for successful eHealth and its related Big Data opportunities. Malawi has reported good news by exceeding the connectivity target of its Last Mile Connectivity Initiative Project (LMCIP) by 45%. The plan was for 100 sites. The achievement was 145 sites. The LMCIP is part of the World Bank funded Regional Communications Infrastructure Program for Malawi (RCIPMW).

    Phase 1 completed in 2011, supplied and provided Internet connectivity and ICT equipment to 15 public education institutions to set up telecentres. Phase 2 added 30 District and Regional Information Offices by November 2013. Phase 3 provided Internet connectivity and ICT equipment to 100 public secondary schools in the country by July 2013. The Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) had close involvement in the LMCIP. Monitoring and evaluation of the third phase is planned to identify the actual benefits.

    The Kenya-based company SimbaNET was the preferred supplier for the US$20,000,000 project, an average of about US$138,000 a site. SimbeNET prices offered an opportunity to advance broadband diffusion in Malawi. This could help to provide part of a platform for eHealth expansion in the future.

    Biztech Africa has a full report on the LMCIP.

  • Google boosts connectivity in Kampala

    Google understands the importance of being connected. They have a range of initiatives to expand connectivity globally, including providing balloon powered internet for everyone. Project Link is a Google initiative in Uganda, to build a faster, high-capacity fiber network. The network will enable local mobile operator and Internet service providers (ISP) to connect more people in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, with its dense urban center of over three million people currently limited to pre-broadband speeds.

    According to Google “we’re strengthening a crucial piece of the Internet supply chain. Some parts of the chain are already strong: undersea cables are bringing data to Africa’s shores and mobile providers are expanding services across the continent. We’ve now built quality infrastructure in between these points to deliver the speed and capacity that supports the latest and greatest of the web.”

    High speed internet will offer new opportunities for business, universities and healthcare centers. Uganda already has a number of eHealth initiatives underway which can now be strengthened and developed further.

  • Algerian ICT deal may improve eHealth capacity

    Algerian broadcaster Télédiffusion d’Algérie (TDA) has signed a multimillion euro contract with Newtec and the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU) to bring the award-winning  Arabsat Arabsat and Arab States Broadcasting Union (ABSU) Multimedia Exchange Network Over Satellite (MENOS) into Algeria. The deal was signed by all three parties on 15 September 2013 at IBC2013, a conference in Amsterdam. ABSU-MENOS terminals will be deployed by Newtec in 48 regions across Algeria over the coming year, and make use of the ABSU platform to provide TDA with their own Virtual Network (VN). This will be a fully secure, automated, IP-based network and will allow TDA to contribute and exchange radio and TV content. Satellite capacity will be provided by Arabsat on Arabsat-5A (Ku-band) and Arabsat-5C (C-band). ABSU-MENOS can be used for several applications, many of which are relevant for eHealth, including:

    High quality audio and video contribution Store and forward file transfer Archiving of audio and video content Highly secure VPN services, with full data encryption SIP based VoIP coordination channels Always-on Intranet and Internet access Distance training and distance learning Remote connectivity for Maintenance and Support.

    The deal includes on-site installation of terminals by Newtec and training for TDA’s engineers on the system, both in Algeria and at Newtec’s headquarters in Belgium. This is a positive step for building capacity in Algeria and technology transfer to the region. It opens the door for sub-network operators to make use of the system’s capacity. These are not limited to businesses, but can constitute other stakeholders, including universities, ministries, NGOs, corporate and private networks. MENOS was developed by Newtec under the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ARTES 3-4 programme, and has since won numerous awards and been deployed in several countries. The first MENOS multimedia network was installed in in the Algiers ABSU facility in 2008. The network was officially launched by ABSU in 2009, and has since been deployed in Iraq and by pan-Arab broadcaster MBC for High Definition (HD) sports. ABSU-MENOS was also used to provide the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with HD coverage of the Olympic Games for the first time in 2012.

  • More 3G, this time for Guinea

    MTN is quickly expanding its footprint in Africa. The company that was launched in 1994 in South Africa now operates in 16 African countries and shows no sign of slowing down.

    MTN has recently announced that it has secured its license to provide 3G services to Guinea.  The new license provides MTN with an opportunity to expand its services in the country and provide Guineans with high-speed internet access at a reduced cost. The new license is in line with its goal of connecting more customers to the digital world.

    3G and 4G services are being rolled out throughout Africa with many countries undergoing dramatic ICT renovations. This certainly provides new opportunities for eHealth and mHealth services.

    For more eHealth News Africa articles on 3G and 4G upgrades in Africa see 3G coming soon to Cameroon, 4G has arrived in Nigeria, 4G for Zimbabwe, Ethiopia’s telecoms partners win a slice of China’s 4G,Nigeria’s ICT upgrade and Ethiopia’s mHealth potential.

  • 3G coming soon to Cameroon

    IBM has recently announced that telecommunications operator Viettel Cameroon SARL is using its IBM Smarter Computing solution to develop and support Cameroon’s 3G infrastructure which will provide advanced integrated mobile services to millions of Cameroonian subscribers. Viettel Cameroon S.A.R.L is a joint venture between telecommunications companies Vietnam’s Viettel Global and Bestinver Cameroon S.A.R.L.

    Having already invested more than $400 million in Cameroon, Viettel Group aims to expand to another 10-15 countries in the next seven years.

    “This agreement marks our significant commitment to Cameroon - the second market in Africa we have invested in,” says Phung Van Cuong, CIO of Viettel Group. “IBM’s rich portfolio of smarter computing solutions is enabling us to provide next-generation wireless services at much lower cost.”

    Most mobile phones in Cameroon are currently only being used for phone calls and not much else due to infrastructure limitations. The new IBM solution being implemented will unleash new types of services in Cameroon, allowing more advanced data application to be explored. The high speed mobile data lays the foundation for the development of mHealth solutions in the country.