[CAIRO] Egypt has become the first African country to join a high-speed Internet network aimed at research institutions that will boost the speed of data transfer with thousands of universities and science facilities across the world.
The Global Ring Network for Advanced Applications Development (GLORIAD) offers research institutions speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. It was started in 1998, initially linking the United States with Russia.
The African link first arrived in Egypt in 2010 — making it an entry point for this high-speed research network to the rest of Africa — but its activation was delayed due to the social upheaval that accompanied the Arab Spring.
"Although we successfully demonstrated the link during the fourth meeting of the African Ministerial Council of Science and Technology (AMCOST IV) in March 2010, the uprising in Egypt disrupted the project, and brought new challenges," Majid Al-Sadek, project manager at the Egyptian National Scientific and Technical Information Network (ENSTINET), told SciDev.Net.
"The major challenge was that the body that promised our funding — other than the seed funding from US National Science Foundation (NSF) — was no longer prepared to fund the link after the revolution, but the Ministry of Scientific Research secured the funds, and the link came to life at the end of 2011."
Al-Sadek said that the new link was designed to intelligently direct Internet traffic between the ordinary Internet and GLORIAD, depending on whether the user is focusing on research. It can also support around 75,000 concurrent videoconferences.
But, although though the link to the GLORIAD network became active in December 2011, many researchers are still unaware of it.
Maged El-Sherbiny, president of the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology told SciDev.Net: "Most researchers in Egypt still need to be introduced to the new link, so the academy is planning a large international workshop at the start of next month."
He added that the workshop will gather "all Egyptian universities and research centres' representatives with their counterparts in many African countries to highlight the best use of the link".
According to El-Sherbiny the academy is now discussing extending the link to the countries in the region via two rings: a northern one for North African countries (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia), and an eastern one for the Nile Basin countries (Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan).
Egypt is working to improve research networks in the Gulf region through GLORIAD's new GulfLight project, and in West Africa through a partnership with the telecommunications provider Baharicom. It is also seeking to develop the first Global Optical Light Exchanges (GOLE) in Africa to serve scientists and educators by increasing the speed of internet connection.