[Column] Matthew Ashe: How wholesale colocation is helping Africa realize its digital ambitions
Africa’s relatively young population is increasingly switched on and connected and is becoming a growing part of the global digital economy.
This is fuelling an increasing demand for new data centre capacity on the continent, including commercial colocation. There are challenges in meeting these demands, but innovative solutions are coming to the fore.
Obstacles for growth
Many compounding factors have contributed to Africa’s low levels of IT penetration, but the picture is changing thanks to advances over recent years. As fibre-optic cable expands into new regions, it paves the way for tech startups to blossom.
Consequently, the demand for data centre colocation services is growing. Currently, most of the existing capacity is concentrated in just three countries – Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
This can be attributed to challenges that have historically made the provision of regional data centres costly and challenging. A lack of grid stability is a significant factor. An estimated 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are disconnected from their national grid, according to the International Energy Agency, and there’s a chronic lack of reliable electricity supply in many regions.
This necessitates investments in on-site power generation and resilience solutions such as a UPS. As this adds to the costs, enterprises are compelled to opt for colocation instead of self-building.
Other factors compounding the challenge include a lack of physical infrastructure with inadequate road networks creating accessibility issues when it comes to installation and maintenance. Finally, the cost and availability of fibre remain an impediment across most of the continent – adding to the problem of latency.
Numerous solutions are being implemented to tackle challenges like the ones listed above. Prefabricated modular data centre designs, for white space and power and cooling, constructed off-site and shipped to their required locations, are leading to the rapid deployment of new facilities and the expansion of existing ones at minimal cost.
The use of renewable energy is a growing phenomenon and provides a solution for resilient electricity supplies in areas with an unstable grid. As solar and wind technologies evolve and become cheaper and more efficient, the role of renewables is only set to grow. Wireless technology, especially with the introduction of 5G, can augment fibre as a connectivity solution and overcome infrastructure gaps.
Wholesale colocation solutions lower the barrier to entry for smaller businesses and wholesalers and have an important role to play in facilitating Africa’s digital expansion. You can help to connect African businesses and consumers to the digital economy with high-speed connectivity at affordable prices, by leveraging our investments.