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What we learnt from the First AFRINIC Internet Measurements Workshop

Josiah 15.03.33The Research and Innovation team at AFRINIC, in conjunction with the Research ICT Africa ran its first workshop on Africa Internet Measurements on 30 May during the Africa Internet Summit 2017 (AIS’17) held in Nairobi. The workshop engaged in discussions around mechanisms and challenges in measuring Africa’s Internet drawing seventy (70) participants including network operators, regulators, civil society, researchers and NRENs. We had several presentations from Internet researchers from around the world focussing on Africa's Internet ecosystem.

What we learnt from the presentations and discussions during the first ever Internet measurements workshop in Africa?

The workshop revealed that despite a lack of cooperation or coordination among researchers in Africa's Internet measurements, we observed a wide range of interesting current research on Africa's Internet topology, covering topics on the technical aspects of the tools and measurements infrastructure, quality of service, pricing studies, privacy, surveillance and Internet freedom.

It was also evident from the discussion that the publicly available Internet measurement tools and infrastructure can provide useful insights into the performance, utilisation and management of Internet services in the AFRINIC region. Many participants believe that better Internet data collection and analysis will not only result in better understanding of Africa's Internet topology, but crucially, could help accelerate solutions for the many interconnectivity challenges in the region.

In fact, many of the presentations spoke to the general notion that the AFRINIC region has some unique challenges, including a low degree of interconnectivity among its network operators, a lack of adherence to Internet's best practices, slow penetration and uneven distribution and utilization of Internet resources. On top of that, traffic and performance data across the region is not only often lacking, but the analysis of such data has thus far been limited.

Workshop Topics

From a technical perspective, AFRINIC research engineers highlighted the state of the measurements infrastructure in Africa, giving a detailed breakdown of the distribution of measurement vantage points and data collectors at country and network level, for both fixed and mobile networks. We highlighted the significant gaps in network-level distribution of measurement probes and promoted the hosting of measurement probes, with the aim of increasing the footprint and diversity of the available tools and vantage points. In the same vein, Kennedy Aseda from KENET discussed the deployment of perfSONAR at KENET, and highlighted the ways in which the measurement infrastructure at KENET is being utilised for end-to-end network performance measurements, while collaborating with researchers and faculty in Kenya and other countries.

Highlighting the role of IXPs in Internet data collection, Kevin Chege from ISOC presented on the African Route-collectors Data Analyzer (ARDA) system that aims to present data collected at African IXPs in ways that can be easily extrapolated into practical business, policy, development, technical, or research opportunities for everyone involved in the peering and interconnection ecosystem. This presentation also highlighted the importance of collaboration between academics, network operators and engineers for improving the availability and analysis of Internet performance data.

Jasper den Hertog of RIPE NCC, introduced TraceMON, a new online tool that helps to make sense of Internet routes that are generated by RIPE Atlas Traceroute measurements. This tool can be used for optimising routing and debugging network problems.

Alessandro Improta from the Institute of Informatics and Telematics (IIT) at the Italian National Research Council (CNR) presented the ISOLARIO Project, on real-time Internet observatory designed for Internet AS-level measurement and analysis, and the discovery of Internet path characteristics. The presentation exposed the huge gap that exists on data pertaining to African networks and their relationships. 

Non-technical presentations focused on the challenges of measuring the complexity of the Internet based on multiple user oriented indexes and indicators. Enrico Calandro of Research ICT Africa (RIA) articulated on the challenge of measuring Internet development for better connectivity towards socioeconomic development, and ascertain progress in socioeconomic growth in the ICT sector. His presentation emphasised on measurements on Internet users' digital rights including capabilities and liberties which also included the policy objectives in ICT development.

Enrico highlighted how RIA use ICT household and individual access and surveys to analyse the digital divide, moving away from narrow supply-side indicators, or purely descriptive quantitative data, instead of focussing on the impact of gender, location (i.e. urban/rural), and age.

Chenai Chair, also from RIA, discussed about affordability as one of the biggest challenges to Internet uptake and use in Africa. Chenai’s presentation addressed the issue of measuring affordability in the context of end users managing their data costs. The presentation outlined the supply and demand side methodology to understanding affordability from the market and user perspective.

Another aspect of Internet measurements discussion focussed on assessing Internet freedom based on experiences from Africa. Mahmood Enayat and Moses Karanja from SmallMedia UK Strathmore Law School, respectively, presented on network measurements work undertaken to investigate the relationship between physical Internet infrastructure ownership and internet freedom in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The main focus was to discover and identify network infrastructure vendors involved in some form of Internet traffic manipulation through installation of middle-boxes.

Along those lines, Wairagala Wakabi of CIPESA explored the explicit and covert ways in which states and private operators hinder the free flow of Internet traffic. His presentation noted how practices on surveillance and censorship affect civic engagement, posing the question of how the economic and social impacts of Internet traffic tampering in African countries should be accurately measured.

Conclusions

Workshop delegates agreed that meaningful Internet measurements require collaborative efforts among technical engineers, social scientists, Internet users, civil society, and governments, among others. There was a general consensus among delegates that the workshop was very timely and useful for AFRINIC to achieve its goal of improving Africa’s Internet through evidence based policies and Internet regulation. A larger percentage of participants agreed to be part of an African Internet Measurements Working group - a community of collaborators who together will work towards improving the state of Internet measurements in Africa through deployment of shared tools and infrastructure, as well as sharing of data and analysis. We look forward to plenty of exciting engagement in upcoming AFRINIC conferences!

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