William Tevie <email@example.com>
Nii Narku Quaynor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Andrew Bulley <email@example.com>
Network Computer Systems, West Africa
This paper describes the effort needed to set up telematic and Internet services in a developing country like Ghana and should serve as a model for understanding the intricacies involved with this within the African context and also for predicting the growth of the service based on several inputs.
Ghana in August 1995 became the next African country to have full Internet connectivity in sub-Saharan Africa. This historic achievement was brought about by cooperation among several organizations, including Network Computer Systems (NCS), Pipex International, The Ministry of Transport and Communication of Ghana, Ghana Telecom, and British Telecom.
The enormous efforts to get Ghana fully connected was accomplished by Dr. Nii Quaynor and his strong technical team, composed of William Tevie, Joseph Annan, Andy Bulley, and others in NCS. NCS is an Information Technology company providing variety of services in Ghana.
There have been quite a number of e-mail systems in Ghana over the years, based primarily on Fidonet and UUCP.
With the structural adjustment program in Ghana and the open economic policy of the Ghana government, the telecommunications sector embarked on a program of privatization. NCS received approval from the Ministry of Transport and Communication to offer value-added e-mail and other services to subscribers in Ghana.
In 1993, NCS registered GH.COM domain and sought a service provider to serve it. Pipex responded favorably to the request and worked with NCS to establish a commercial service in Ghana. The initial method of connection was by dial-up IP to Pipex performed periodically, using a DEC station 5000 model 25 with Morningstar PPP software.
With the explosion in the worldwide Internet, it became imperative for the network in Ghana to be expanded. One of the primary constraints facing the expansion of the network was the lack of adequate or sufficient DELs, so it was impossible for NCS to get dial-in lines for subscribers.
However, since the beginning of October 1994, there has been expansion of the national telephone network by Ghana Telecom. This expansion through the second telecom project resulted in the addition of 15,000 lines to Accra exchanges. This made available additional dial-in lines to subscribers. NCS applied for the top-level domain GH, and its approval in January 1995 thus put further pressure for improvement and expansion of the network.
Two workstations were acquired with a telebit Netblazer with a rack of U.S. Robotics modems to aid in the expansion; total disk capacity of the two workstations is 6 GB, with 48 MB each of memory. These additions significantly improved the service, and in January NCS had the semblance of a budding Internet service provider.
Figure 1. System diagram.
The international leased circuit became operational on 21 August 1995, with a data throughput of 14.4 kbps, with close collaboration of Pipex. Immense support was given to us by Ghana Telecom and British Telecom, who provisioned the circuit. This circuit lands directly to the Internet backbone in London. With full Internet connectivity, all our 323-plus subscribers have full access to Internet services. Services offered are WWW, FTP, Telnet, and all other Internet services provided by Pipex.
Figure 2. Growth of subscribers.
A steady user community is building up, with a lot of customers being connected every day. Primary mode of connection for dial-up subscribers is PPP and UUCP. One of the new exchanges in Accra has ISDN capability; this will be a future mode of connection for those who want high-speed connections to their premises.
Figure 2 shows the growth in the number of subscribers to the network, to a total of 323 in March 1996. This shows an explosion in growth. Figure 3 summarizes the distribution of the subscribers, with the largest block being corporations and companies.
Figure 3. Subscribers by category.
The cross-section includes university professors, government officials, individuals, universities, international agencies, embassies, corporations, and NGOs.
Figure 4. New subscribers.
Figure 4 shows the distribution of new subscribers versus time; there is an incremental increase in more recent months as people become more aware of the availability of the Internet in Ghana.
Figure 5 shows the Internet subscribers by regions. The principal subscribers are based in the capital Accra, with the Ashanti region having the next significant number of subscribers.
With the establishment of POPs in the various regions, the numbers could increase significantly.
Figure 5. Subscribers by region.
Figure 6. Peak connectivity time.
Figure 6 shows the average peak times of connectivity to the network as being between 16:00 and 18:00 local time (GMT) and also indicates the average number of users on the network at various times in the day.
Figure 7. Bytes of e-mail transferred through the system per quarter.
NCS is planning to establish points of presence (POPs) in regional capitals in Ghana, starting with the larger metropolitan cities of Kumasi, Takoradi, and Tamale. To continue to increase the performance of the link to Pipex, NCS is also exploring satellite technologies, which will serve to increase the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth; the next step is to upgrade to a 64-kbps link to London through Ghana Telecom and also to invest in a 3.8m class C earth station satellite to connect to the backbone in the United States. Thus NCS would have two routes to international--one for the European traffic and the other for the U.S. traffic.
Other radio and satellite communication facilities are being reviewed as methods of expanding regionally. These include cylink spread spectrum modems for areas less than 50 km from POPs and VSAT terminals, which will be springing up in Ghana soon. Expansion will also be accomplished by renting spare capacity on existing domestic satellites in the country and by virtual points of presence, which will be provisioned by Ghana Telecom and a private telecom provider Giant International.
The Internet connectivity and development in Ghana has to be through the commercial service providers and also through private enterprise initiatives; this will ensure sustainability and also make sure that Ghana is at the leading edge of the technology.
There is great potential in terms of usage, as can be seen in the growth curve in Figure 2, which shows that the number of subscribers increased from 0 in January 1995 to 323 in March 1996. It is becoming increasingly clear that the information highway is the gateway to the future and that countries falling behind will have a lot of catching up to do.