Kenyan ISPs and cloud service providers are working to convince local businesses to host websites within the country, taking advantage of faster access to content.
Many businesses continue to host their sites outside the country, but the tide is slowing turning in favor of local providers. Kenyan cloud service company Angani, for example, is receiving numerous requests from companies to have their websites hosted locally. The company is currently managing over 20,000 email accounts and a few thousand websites, said Angani CEO Phares Kariuki.
Hosting websites locally can spur Internet uptake in developing regions such as Africa, according to a report by the Internet Society, "Promoting Local Content Hosting to Develop the Internet Ecosystem."
The report takes Rwanda as a case study, and says that almost all commercial websites are hosted outside the country. The study revealed the kind of slow speeds users have in accessing content hosted away from the region.
"The delay experienced by users in Rwanda to download a webpage can frequently be five seconds or more, and this can increase for webpages composed of multiple elements," the report said. "The cumulative effect can make the overall Internet experience slow and frustrating, with a corresponding negative impact on usage."
Angani's Kariuki figures there are many advantages of having websites hosted locally. With local hosting, services such as video on demand can be a reality in Africa, he said. For example, YouTube in Kenya has local cache points, helping users download content without using too much bandwidth, he said. YouTube videos are now practical as ISPs don't have to use expensive international links to serve the video content.
Local hosting infrastructure is faster and to some extent more reliable, because there are fewer hops to the server from users, Kariuki said.
The high cost of international exchange is also a disadvantage for local ISPs. Since the Kenya Internet Exchange (KIXP) point is local, the cost for international transfers through the exchange essentially makes connectivity cheaper. The cost at KIXP is about $US0.40 per megabit, compared to upwards of $100 per megabit even with the cheapest undersea providers.
In Rwanda, content providers that use foreign hosting services save some money on hosting itself, but may lose out in the long run. Meanwhile, the ISPs that have to bear the cost of connecting to the foreign hosting service run up big bills, and pass the costs to end users.
"For one of the larger Rwandan websites that was examined, the content developer saved US$111 per year by hosting overseas, while it cost the Rwandan ISPs approximately US$13,500 in transit costs to deliver the content from abroad to local users," the report said. Meanwhile, the report said, the websites hosted abroad suffer high latency, which reduces use by end users.
The high latency for sites hosted abroad gives Kenyan cloud service company Angani a competitive advantage.
For example, Sprout Kenya, a social media management company that also owns Whatsapp customer management software Ongair, opted to use Angani.
"It is usually a lot faster, there is no latency," said Sprout CEO Trevor Kimenye. "If the users are in Kenya and the servers are in Kenya, it is faster."
Kimenye said that the costs are actually comparable and not more expensive than hosting outside the country.
Nevertheless, the majority of websites in Kenya are still hosted outside the country. Government websites such as president.go.ke, which is supposed to represent the office of the president of Kenya, are also hosted outside the country.
The Telecommunication Service Providers Association of Kenya (TESPOK), which manages KIXP, has urged local county governments in the country to host their websites locally. The association found out that only 13 counties out of 47 hosted their websites locally by last year.
"Using international hosting providers for internet content for local consumers is expensive as compared to using local hosting companies," TESPOK said. In addition, this latency of websites hosted abroad is unfair to users, who have to deal with slow access and also bear the international costs that are passed on to them from ISPs.
TESPOK CEO Fiona Asonga said KIXP had a key role to play in satisfying the growth in demand in Kenya for Internet bandwidth and latency-sensitive traffic in Kenya. KIXP is now delivering an average of 1.2Gbps in bandwidth exchange, compared with 900Kbps a decade ago when it opened.
Meanwhile, Angani believes there is room to have cheaper and faster Internet connection in Africa and aims to bring that future to the continent as it looks to expand into East Africa this year.