The public cloud is PERFECT for Africa

The hyperscaler investment into Africa has changed dramatically over the last six years, and as a result, tech leaders in Africa have started to move their workloads to the public cloud. African telcos should take note, and start moving their workloads to the public cloud, too. The public cloud is PERFECT for African operators for two reasons: total cost of ownership (TCO) savings and access to world-class software. With billions of dollars of data center investment by the Big 3 clouds, regulations shifting to accommodate use of the public cloud, and big telco groups signing big deals, it’s time for the rest of the continent to take notice.

Telcos are signing up

One of the first ways you see public cloud adoption shifting in any region is the announcement of partnerships with the large telcos. We saw this happen in western Europe and North America, and then in Asia. It’s starting to happen in Africa, too. For example:

The hyperscalers are investing

Six years ago there weren’t any regions in Africa. Now there are three regions on the continent, all in South Africa. Azure and Google each have one in Johannesburg, while AWS has one in Cape Town. Each region represents roughly $3 billion dollars of investment, given that they are built with multiple availability zones situated hundreds of kilometers apart. 

AWS has also built Local Zones in Nigeria and Kenya, which are basically mini versions of regions. They use them as a way to test a new market for a full-scale region as they monitor adoption and usage in the country (so Nigeria and Kenya, take note!). Local Zones bring compute, storage, and a select set of services to a physical location. This allows for lower latency and better performance for applications that work better in closer proximity to end-users or on-prem infrastructure, and helps meet any data sovereignty requirements. For telcos, it’s a great way to start to learn how to use the public cloud technology and begin the shift of workloads to this new paradigm.

Keep an eye on the regulations

One of the first objections execs give me about the public cloud is, “I can’t, because of my country’s regulations.” But you’d be surprised how many countries DO allow use of the public cloud, even if there’s not a hyperscaler region located in that country. For quick-and-dirty research, the TelcoDR team likes to use the OneTrust DataGuidance™ tool, which gives a great, up-to-date summary of telco regulations and data requirements by country. And you need to keep up with it, because regulations can change on a dime, like they did in Ecuador, when, after a massive data breach by Ecuadorean IT consulting firm Novaestrat, the regulators flipped and mandated the use of the public cloud, as it is more secure.

Here are some common patterns to data regulations we find when researching countries:

  • It’s allowed: you are free to use the public cloud!; 
  • It’s allowed, as long as you have a short list of “friendly” countries;
  • It’s allowed, if you can prove that the hyperscalers’ data storage is as secure or more secure than your approach (easy to do!); and
  • It’s allowed, but needs regulator approval.

Don’t forget that the hyperscalers themselves are a great resource. They want your business, and want to help you use their services. They even have resources on staff that work with governments (like the recent telco hire by Google for EMEA). For more information, examples, and helpful links read this TelcoDR white paper on meeting data sovereignty regulations.

Use the public cloud, it’s 80% cheaper 

The public cloud can provide everything telcos need to serve millions at a low price point. How? It offers pay-as-you-grow hardware and services, with no massive upfront costs to get started. It’s cheaper to run, too. The public cloud puts powerful, cutting-edge computing resources and storage, the best hardware, and the best chips at your disposal. The infrastructure is managed for you, so no need for extra IT personnel or the headache of maintenance.

This is a massive win for Africa, where electricity costs are high and average revenue per user (ARPU) is low. Plus, getting hardware through customs and to its final destination can take months. With the public cloud, there’s no physical assets to ship. Just connect to the nearest point of presence, and voila, you have access to the latest and greatest tech. I love to see the look on execs’ faces when it dawns on them what access like that can do for their business. 

For example: let’s look at what happens when you deploy a software-as-a-service (SaaS) charger. For large-scale deployments with Totogi we typically see an 80% lower TCO compared to on-prem systems. That’s because we don’t install one customer at a time, on premise, where you have to guess your capacity needs and pre-purchase all that unused hardware. Our solution is fully public cloud native, deployed in AWS as a SaaS platform. You don’t need to estimate and buy for peak capacity, and you don’t need a disaster recovery system, either. Totogi saves you boatloads on unused compute, yet can scale up to handle any surge in usage in seconds—all thanks to the public cloud. 

So the next time your Ericsson sales rep visits you to force an upgrade to the next version of their charger, ask them if their charger’s TCO is going down by 80%. I’ll bet the answer is, “no way, Jose.”

Use the public cloud for the software 

Getting access to the latest and greatest software—including cutting-edge AI—is the biggest reason the public cloud is PERFECT for Africa. African telcos already know how the big software vendors don’t want to sell in Africa due to the low ARPU and the difficulty of doing business. They don’t want to ruin their margins, so they send in their low-end partners and skip Africa all together. And who suffers? The telcos. They don’t get access to the software they need to provide cutting edge services.

But with the public cloud, kickass SaaS companies like Totogi can serve African telcos as easily as they can serve any other location, and at an affordable price. The more customers we put on our platforms, the more we amplify our economies of scale. We can support the entire continent, every telco, and the billion-plus people they serve across all 54 countries. And we can do it on one platform because we’re multi-tenant. Plus, we work with all generations of networks, from 2G to 5G. Imagine the additional revenue African telcos can drive by applying AI to a 2G, “pre-data-heavy” network. The opportunities are endless!

So, let’s get African telcos on the public cloud! The hyperscalers are there. Regulations won’t hold you back. We’re looking at a huge opportunity to overcome infrastructure deficits, enable widespread access to digital services, and accelerate economic development. By leveraging the scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of public-cloud solutions, African countries can unlock new avenues for innovation, entrepreneurship, and inclusive growth. 

Want to talk about this some more? Come meet with me in Diani Beach, Kenya at the NOVACOM Africa Digital Transformation Strategy Summit in two weeks! Let’s do this, Africa!

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