Choosing an internet service for your NGO in Africa can be a confusing and expensive endeavor. There are over 100 different internet service providers (ISP) in Africa and the costs can range from $80 to $1,900 or more per megabyte depending on the country and type of connection. Adding to that challenge, only about 1/4 of ISPs provide internet service in more than one country. That means you may need to secure different ISPs for each country office within your organization, adding to your overhead investment of time and money.  

Reducing your operational costs associated with your internet connection allows you to reallocate those funds directly toward your mission and impact. Below are three areas to consider when choosing an affordable internet service for your NGO’s office in Africa:    

International versus Regional Internet Providers

One of the first areas to consider is whether to purchase internet from an international or regional ISP.

Regional ISPs may appear to be a cheaper option, but you need to consider performance — how long does it take between when you click on something and when that data comes back? Having high bandwidth does not guarantee high speeds. If your network experiences latency, it might be due to how your ISP is routing the traffic. A regional network might have to send the traffic to multiple African countries then Europe before it gets to the end server in the USA, for example. Each segment or “hop” adds time between the source request and destination data…and back again. Contention might also be an issue if the ISP is merging your data with too many other clients’, forcing your traffic to wait to merge with others’. 

Having the right diagnostic equipment allows you to see the route of the traffic and latency at each point to understand where your performance issues are happening. You should consider testing the network and its routing before you sign a contract with any ISP. 

International ISPs may also have some areas to explore before you sign a contract. One area to watch out for is if there are different internet prices for domestic versus international traffic. It might seem like all of your traffic is in-country, but is it really? If your organization relies on programs like Office 365 to communicate, all of that traffic must go to a server in the US before it comes back to the desk down the hall. So what appears domestic might, in fact, be international and charged at a higher rate!  

Last Mile Connectivity

Regardless of what type of ISP you choose, regional or international, a key aspect to consider is how they will physically connect your office. “The last mile,” or the connection between the ISP hub and your physical office, is critical to determining the reliability of your network. There are five common delivery methods of internet available in Africa:

  • Fibre
  • Private Wireless
  • Microwave
  • Mobile (3G, 4G or LTE)
  • VSAT

Each type of delivery has its pros and cons with different cost and contention rates. You should be mindful of how many points of failure there are in the network and compare this to your tolerance for service interruptions. Fibre might have the least points of failure, but the high costs might not be justified for a small satellite office where a wireless service will suffice.  

What happens when your primary service goes down? In addition to your primary connection, what back-up solutions are available from the various providers? Planning for disruptions before they happen is key to keeping your internet up and running when you need it. 

Configuring Local Networks to Maximize Bandwidth

When the price per megabyte of internet bandwidth is high, how do you stay connected with less? Having the right network equipment can allow you to better manage your existing bandwidth through traffic shaping. Traffic shaping is used to optimize some types of traffic over others to ensure your critical data goes first. 

An example might be to make sure office productivity traffic, like Office 365 or Skype calls, gets sent before YouTube or Facebook searches. You may even decide to block social media traffic altogether during business hours. Blocking traffic may not only be good for improving bandwidth speed, it might also reduce your liability of workers accessing offensive sites in the office. 

A unique way to maximize traffic shaping is to share your unused after-hours bandwidth with your surrounding community. For example, a nearby refugee camp or local school could connect to the bandwidth you are not using in the evening for online educational purposes at no additional cost to your organization.

Choosing the right internet access option for your NGO requires some expertise and time to ensure you are maximizing your internet performance while controlling your costs. Telecom4Good is a non-profit that specializes in helping NGOs like yours navigate those purchases, choosing the right ISP and equipment to help you use your resources efficiently.

If you are interested in discussing how we can help your NGO negotiate the best deal for your internet connection and network equipment, click here to read more about our free services.

Written by Kathy Panzl 

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