During the UbuntuNet Alliance organised NREN CEOs Indaba held in Livingstone, Zambia the question: ‘Are African NRENs at a risk of becoming extinct just like Dinosaurs?” attracted a long and interesting discussion.
The question was posed to NREN managers and representatives by Professor Madara Ogot, when he was making a presentation on sustainability and business health of NRENs.
Prof. Ogot acknowledged that despite their very nature of providing high speed internet connectivity solely for research and education networking, NRENs have found themselves in a highly competitive market environment where commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have become fierce competitors who are trying to woo customers that are ideally supposed to be taking services exclusively from their NRENs.
The threat, warned Prof. Ogot, is that should NRENs continue to sit in their comfort zone and fail to reposition themselves amidst this cut- throat competition, they might become irrelevant to their customers and eventually ‘become extinct.’
The University of Nairobi professor therefore challenged NREN managers to make an honest assessment on the position of their respective NRENs on the market as well as reflect on whether they still have a value proposition that makes them viable entities in the minds of their customers for the foreseeable future.
Encouragingly, while acknowledging the highly competitive nature of the industry, the NREN managers expressed confidence that NRENs have a lot to offer to their customers and will therefore continue to be relevant to their member institutions if they continue to be innovative.
“While it is true that ISPs are trying to offer our customers lower prices to connect with them, NRENs should not be very concerned because apart from those lower prices which NRENs are also offering, the ISPs are not interested in offering the customer customised additional services that facilitate research and education networking. If NRENs are innovative enough and are identifying and providing these additional services, commercial ISP will not be able to woo customers based solely on prices, so the most important thing is to continue to be innovative to remain relevant,” said Dr. Lourino Chemane, CEO of MoRENet.
Making his contribution Eng. Isaac Kasana, CEO of RENU said apart from pricing issues, NRENs need to sensitise their communities on the ethos and core values of belonging to an NREN. He said this would cement the spirit of collaboration and instill loyalty in institutions thereby making their NRENs more vibrant.
Going back to his presentation, Professor Ogot then challenged the NREN managers to come up with comprehensive business plans and models that would enable them realize surpluses to keep them sustainable.
The Livingstone Indaba was the their for NREN managers following the Dar es Salaam workshop held in April 2016. The workshops are sponsored by the AfricaConnect2 project.