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The Gambia : Gamtel paves the way to cyberspace

GAMTEL is the primary provider of telecommunications and related services in The Gambia. The company’s main objective is to be a leader in providing world-class communications services. In fulfillment of this objective, development in communications technologies are being closely monitored for implementation.

This was why GAMTEL, after setting up the analogue mobile and paging services, ventured into providing Internet services at a time it was considered a wild dream in most African countries.

Internet, the Beginning

In 1993, GAMTEL attempted to bring Internet access to The Gambia. Without an appropriate infrastructure at that time, the company extended the functionalities of its existing package switching network (X25) and entered into reseller agreements with CompuServe and Delphi, both external providers. Through this arrangement The Gambia had her first taste of Internet access but with a lot of constraints.

The Internet Initiative for Africa (IIA)

In the continuous search to provide efficient Internet services in the country, GAMTEL, through the Government of The Gambia, embraced the UNDP’s Internet Initiative for Africa (IIA). Thus, The Gambia became the first African country to pilot this project. GAMTEL, in addition to providing the required infrastructure and logistics, contributed half the cost and UNDP provided the other half.

The first Internet gateway of 512Kbps, through Teleglobe Canada, and a national Internet backbone of 12 points of presences (PoP sites), was commissioned in September 1998. This ushered in a new era of Internet usage in The Gambia with Internet access available in all the growth centres of the country.

The demand for Internet access however steadily increased as access via dedicated Internet lease lines was provided to corporate and private ISPs, and dial-up service was provided mainly to individual users and Internet cafes. As awareness of the Internet grew, more and more people relied on it for communication via e-mail, information and business. And congestion on the 512Kbps international bandwidth became evident within one year of the commissioning of the Internet project.

GAMTEL responded rapidly to this situation by increasing the link to Teleglobe from 512Kbps to 1Mbps and provided an additional 3Mbps via fiber through Sonatel in Senegal to the SAT3 cable. This not only brought the total international bandwidth to 4Mbps but also made The Gambia multihomed (with more than one international Internet link) in November 2002. In June 2004 the international bandwidth was again increased to 9Mbps to accommodate for the increased demand on bandwidth due to the introduction of services and access modes (SDN and Wireless).

Evolution of Internet Services

GAMTEL, in being sensitive to the different needs and ability of Internet users, introduced the Internet access via ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) in 2003. This addressed the Internet needs of the residential and small business users who require faster-than-analogue dial-up access, but found dedicated Internet lease lines expensive or more than their requirements.

The Virtual Private Network (VPN) services was launched to address the interconnectivity requirements of corporate institutions with their branches in different locations (national or international) via secured tunnels through the Internet.

Having observed the pattern of Internet traffic, it was realized that 80% of it was coming from outside The Gambia, to the extent that even traffic that could have been local had to first go through the international link. considering the high cost of international bandwidth and the gross disparity in settlement terms, GAMTEL launched the country’s first web-portal, branded "yegoo" ([www.yegoo.gm) in July 2005, to provide services to Internet users without them using much of the international bandwidth unnecessarily.

The commissioning of the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), branded "Jamano", in July 2005, provided affordable wireless Internet access at an average speed of 155Kbps. This was realized through a pilot project of 10,000 lines. The constraints of requiring a land line, and having to be in a fixed location to access the Internet, were thus overcome. This significantly boosted Internet access and usage in the country.

Broadband Internet access via ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Lines) was added to the gamut of GAMTEL Internet services to address the needs of the SOHO (Small Office Home Office) and corporate institutions. This service provides fast Internet access, as well as audio and video, simultaneously on the same telephone line. Its advantage over the ISDN is its higher bandwidth capacity and flat-fee nature, as there is no additional payment for the time spent on the line in using the Internet.

Developments Toward the Banjul AU Summit

For the AU Summit, GAMTEL took a number of measures to implement projects to cater for the expected increase in Internet traffic. An Internet resource centre with state-of-the-art equipment was put in place in February 2006 to counter security threats, minimize spam and vulnerability to viruses on the Internet. World-class hosting services (e-mail with own domain, web sites with any domain and databases) have been made available, and the pop-based e-mail capacity increased to over 30,000 accounts.

The international Internet bandwidth has also been increased from 9Mbps to 45Mbps plus an additional 10Mbps via satellite. This brings the total international Internet bandwidth capacity to 50Mbps, making The Gambia second in West Africa with the largest international Internet bandwidth. The outdated IP backbone has also been replaced with the IP-MPLS (Internet Protocol-Multiple Protocol Labeled Switch). In addition, GAMTEL has provided the Summit Media Centre and AU Village with Internet access via ADSL and Internet lease lines.

Conclusion

All these developments testify to company’s sensitivity to the customers’ communications needs and its resolve to fulfill the objective of providing world-class telecommunications and related services to the door steps of Gambians. And GAMTEL will, no doubt, strive harder to bridge the existing digital divide.

Author : Ebrima Barry

Date : 08/31/2006

Source : http://www.progressiveafricans.com/...

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