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If you haven’t looked at opportunities in Africa in the last couple of years, it’s time to take another look. A massive amount of new internet connectivity is creating new possibilities for the continent, changing the face of Africa forever.  The economic and social development opportunities created by high speed, stable and affordable internet access were something that the people of Africa could only dream of until relatively recently – now that dream is fast becoming a reality.

A little over a year ago, Cisco IT was running just one 45 Mbps WAN connection into the continent – serving our Johannesburg office in South Africa – that was close enough to European standards so that we could provide our employees there with a decent IT experience. We were supporting 10 other offices across Africa, yet because high speed network connectivity was either unavailable or unaffordable, the majority of offices made do with 2 Mbps terrestrial circuits. In Nairobi we had to use a 2 Mbps satellite uplink with such a delay, that performing basic business transactions was a slow and frustrating process. Simply downloading email there was painful, and Voice over IP and any form of video were out of reach. This was especially challenging for our sales teams trying to sell Cisco products and services, who were unable to properly use most of them; let alone showcase them.  Many found it nearly impossible to communicate with the rest of Cisco using our collaboration tools; they were effectively islands which were cut off from Cisco’s global resources.

Today, multiple new submarine cable systems connect both the East and West coast of the continent. Seacom and EASSy now light up the East Coast with MainOne live hugging the West Coast to name but a few. These systems bring huge capacity, with further systems and more capacity planned to land before the end of 2012. Finally the continent’s network connectivity is becoming fully established, bridging Africa with the rest of the globe.

With more than 12000 Gigabits of available bandwidth today and a further ~ 12000 Gigabit planned in the near future, the future is bright. http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/ So what do these numbers mean? This capacity allows enterprises and consumers to enjoy affordable high speed bandwidth, making a real difference to how they run their business and how they run their lives. This new capability will ultimately put Africans on an equal footing with their counterparts across the globe.

At Cisco, these developments have allowed us to find affordable ways to provide robust high speed connectivity to the majority of our field sales offices in Africa, in fact seven of our field sales offices on the continent, (or 70% of our headcount on the continent) now run their own dedicated 1 * 45 Mbps or 1 * 34 Mbps WAN link.

This of course allows any business to think about how they can usher in latest generation technologies such as Cisco TelePresence, High definition Video Conferencing and Rich media tools. Video technology in Africa is set to grow rapidly over the next 12 months. Cisco IT is naturally taking advantage of these new capabilities. I’ll describe how in my next blog, “From Cairo to Nairobi,  Eye to Eye at the Touch of a Button.”

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