Overview 3Internet Usage Zimbabwe 4Limitations to Growth 5Possible Accelerators of Growth 5The Market Model 6Role of PTC 6Role of ISP's 7Network Management 7International Routing 8Backbone Routing 8Leased Link Routing (ISP & High-Speed Links) 8Network Software Services 8Dial-Up Port Functionality 8Dial-Up Port Slot Availability 8International Throughput (per leg) 8Backbone Throughput (per leg) 8High-Speed & ISP Throughput (per leased circuit port) 8Tarriff Model 9Domain Administration 10Capacity & Availability Issues In The Access Network 10Inter-POP Trunking Network 10Wireless Technology 11Special Application Opportunities 11Distance Learning Initiatives 11Government and the Internet 11Zimbabwe as a Global Content Provider 12The Digital Thinking Network 13
Between September 1996 and January 1997 DTN undertook
a project in Zimbabwe in collaboration with Global One to assist
the Zimbabwe Posts & Telecommunications Corporation (PTC)
in establishing a viable business case for the commercial introduction
of Internet services by the PTC in Zimbabwe. The project provides
an interesting case study of Internet issues in the African context,
both from a technical and economic environmental perspective.
The telecommunications market in Zimbabwe is very
under-developed, and faces many conflicting challenges. While
on the one hand Zimbabwe has a dramatically poor availability
of basic telephony access - the country has less than 250,000
access lines - consumer, commercial, academic and government sectors
are increasingly demanding the availability of far more advanced
services, including Internet access and cellular communications.
Indeed policy leadership in Zimbabwe has recognised the need
to a far more aggressive communications infrastructure, although
the means to achieve it remains elusive.
The introduction of Internet services into Zimbabwe
faced the PTC with a dilemma. With the PTC slow to move, a number
of privately held Internet service provider had moved into commercial
operation using links to South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The prospect of organisations other than the PTC carrying telecommunications
traffic and threatening its franchise troubled PTC, while rapidly
increasing demands from the customer base placed the PTC in the
difficult position of having to deliver services it was ill-equipped
to provide, and was questionable in prioritising.
The challenge was to develop a business plan for
the PTC in Zimbabwe which allowed it to deploy Internet in an
aggressive and pro-active fashion, while at the same time limiting
its risk, solidifying its position and role in the market, making
best and practical use of the technical skills it had at hand,
and optimising the utility of the private investment capital available
in the market.
The model we chose to implement places the PTC in
the position of national backbone and international Internet connectivity
provider. The PTC partners with Internet service providers who
are responsible for service delivery to the customer. The PTC's
resources and services are focused on managing the backbone network,
and the services it provides to a limited set of Internet service
providers. Internet service providers are placed in a position
of meeting customer expectation and need, focusing their investment
and value-add into Zimbabwe and the critical customer level activity
that will develop the market.
The implementation of the model in Zimbabwe brought
to the fore a series of issues specific to the African context
and the appropriateness of Internet models to it. Perhaps most
basic is the reliability and availability of the access and transmission
networks themselves. Wireless data access became a critical factor
in making Internet services available. The regulatory structure
of the Internet market in Zimbabwe from the perspective of the
licensing of service providers as data traffic carriers, and the
management of the country's Internet top-level domain - something
handled by people outside of Zimbabwe until the start of the project.
But perhaps the most pressing issue is how Internet
can be brought to bear in a role of direct benefit to the customer
base of a developing nation. Within this context the ability
to integrate Internet into existing communications activities
and applications is crucial. For example, to use Internet email
bridged with Telex to deliver prices from a market to a post office
in a rural area.
We expect the market of users connected to the Internet
to grow to at least 100 000 by October 1999. Assuming a very
conservative stable growth rate of PC purchases (40% increase
per year) the number of PC's which are Internet enabled will be
in the area of 80%.
|Dates||Internet Connected Users (User Accounts)||Estimated Increase in Internet Connected Users||Personal Computers in Zimbabwe (assuming a stable 40% per annum growth)|
The model is based on very conservative estimates
and should be considered as a base case. The estimates are based
on qualitative interviews with ISPs and experiences in the South
The Internet market model for Zimbabwe places the
PTC in the significant role of providing the long-haul capacity
for all Internet traffic within Zimbabwe across a national backbone,
as well as managing all international Internet traffic through
the central hub in Harare.
Three types of services are then sold to Internet
Service Providers (ISPs) who in turn resells and markets these
and other value added services to the customers. The benefit
of this configuration is that it places the PTC in a dominant
position in the market, but at the same time leveraging the PTC
transmission core competence by reselling this to ISP who drive
the demand though offering value added Internet services.
The three services offered by the PTC are:
Although the individual and high speed corporate
users are physically linking into the PTCís backbone infrastructure
the services are sold by the Internet Service Providers. The PTC
bills the ISP for rental of the backbone ports.
The ISPs are to compete on quality and value added services at the customer interface.
The primary goal is to defined Network Service Level standards, based upon two key variables:
The business success of the PTC rests directly on
the careful management of the performance and availability equation,
both in effective utilisation of equipment and capacity, and in
terms of a profitable upgrade programme directly linked to expanding
The PTC's upgrade requirements are dictated by two key elements:
From the PTC's perspective the objective is to ensure
the SLA performance and availability ceilings are never exceeded,
and that upgrades are scheduled and implemented according to a
rigorous timetable as ceilings are approached. The exact timetable
and turn-around time frame for this cycle can really only be determined
once the network is operational and experience can be collected.
The nature of the Business Model places the PTC
at the top of a hierarchical structure, whole-selling high capacity
leased circuit ports, high-speed ports and batches of dial-up
port slots off the backbone to Internet Service Providers (ISPs),
who then sell services to customers. The PTC therefore will be
issuing comprehensive accounts to a relatively small number of
ISPs, billing them for the collective Internet services purchased
from the PTC.
At the time of the project Zimbabwe lacked any agreed
formality in its domain administration process. The technical
domain management function (in the sense of the location of the
computer the controls it) was being performed by a company in
the United States headed by Randy Bush. The University (through
a Prof. Shepard) had acted as the interface in Zimbabwe, passing
name registration requests through to Mr. Bush in the United States.
Typically while an impartial body within the country
may hold the final rights to the domain for the country, it tenders
out the technical and laborious process of actually operating
the domain to one or more organisations based on quality of service
criteria. Zimbabwe may well choose to follow a similar route
to other countries with the Ministry, an Independent Regulator,
the PTC, or the Research Council outsourcing administration of
components of the domain to one or various organisations. For
example, it may be advantageous for the University to manage the
academic component of the Zimbabwe Internet domain, while the
PTC or other organisations perform the work for commercial, government
and military domains.
It is extremely desirable to have "ownership"
of the top-level domain distinct from operation administration.
This creates the opportunity for recourse in the quality of administration
work. Similarly it is desirable to break-up the task of second-level
domain administration amongst different organisations.
Customers gain access to Internet ports in backbone
points-of-presence (POPs) via two key routes - dial-up analogue
connections (modems connected to standard telephone lines) and
permanent leased circuits (64Kbps or greater transmission circuits).
Demand for Internet access is placing increased strain on the
PTCs delivery processes and capacity for access lines, most particularly
for leased circuits.
It's highly likely that individuals looking for dial-up
Internet access services already has at least one analogue telephone
service available to them. There is an increased demand for standard
telephone lines to use as Internet connection lines amongst small
businesses and professionals using the Internet as a business
tool. This demand can likely be served by existing subscriber
line technologies and processes, albeit at an increased pace to
the current expansion rates.
However, leased circuits present a tremendous problem
in the availability of access network capacity and the processes
necessary to commission them. In many cases customers wait years
for leased-lines to be physically trenched and installed. And
even then, fault levels are high. Leased-circuit customers -
including Internet Service Providers and corporate clients - represent
the financial bulk of the Internet business. In addition, very
few of the corporate clients who will desire Internet services
have any form of leased circuit already in place. Hence, the
rate at which new leased circuits can be deployed at the access
level operates in direct correlation to the viability and potential
success of the Internet business case for the PTC.
Similarly to the access network, the availability
of capacity in the Internet backbone network is a key issue.
The Internet market model for Zimbabwe places the PTC in the significant
role of providing the long-haul capacity for all Internet traffic
within Zimbabwe across a national backbone, as well as managing
all international Internet traffic through the central hub in
Harare. Given the performance and service level requirements
and likely traffic profiles of a national backbone, the transmission
services supporting inter-POP connections need to be expandable,
reliable and available. Initial inter-POP circuits operate at
64Kbps levels of capacity, but this is likely to escalate fairly
rapidly to levels demanding 512Kbps between POPs, with redundant
circuits to assure availability.
A potential solution to the access network capacity
and circuit availability issue lies in Wireless data transmission
technology. A variety of products exists today capable of facilitating
point-to-point transmission circuits at speeds of between 9600bps
and 2Mbits over ranges of up to 50km using TDMA and CDMA techniques
in the 2.4GHz range.
Corporate and institutional customers are the primary
consumers of leased circuit Internet access. The vast majority
of these customers operate within a 50km radius of a major center,
thus making wireless technology a viable solution to the access
network demand these customers represent. Of course these same
wireless transmission circuits can be applied to other functions
such as local access voice circuit provision, packet-switch network
access and so-on.
With more than 50 million pages information and doubling
every 5 months the World Wide is a vast library of free information.
The Internet opens the library of the world to schools and
universities in Zimbabwe negligible cost.
As the National Information Initiative in the USA,
major initiatives in Europe and around the globe attests the Internet
offers new possibilities to share knowledge within and outside
The Internet can become the medium though which government departments share knowledge and build on each other expertise.
The Internet can be used to make government information accessible to it constituents at much cheaper levels and in greater depth than through traditional media.
Zimbabweans are very proficient in the standard language
of content on computers, English. This coupled with an internationally
very low costs structure opens the possibility to create multimedia
content in Zimbabwe for sale internationally.
The generation of content on the Internet will be
the growth industry in the information field in the next 10 years.
With some alterations to the current information market infrastructure
and the correct initiatives Zimbabwe will be poised to be a major
player in this field. Similarly India is becoming a major provider
of programming excellence globally.
The Digital Thinking Network is an international
consulting network, specialising in digital innovation and the
development of strategies within the context of the emerging global
digital economy. The DTN is headed-up by co-founders Niall Murphy
and Daniel Erasmus.
You can learn more about the DTN and its activities by visiting our Web site at http://www.dtn.net.