London — There are a number of larger African country markets that have started the digital change with higher rates of web and app use. But there are other smaller markets where this change has barely begun. Until recently Mauritania was one of those smaller countries. Russell Southwood spoke to Yehdhih Ould Mohamed Moctar, CEO and Founder Xseeg about his plans to open an independent data centre and a local cloud.
For a number of years Moctar has been a software engineer in the USA and became very familiar with the cloud market in the USA, through managing a cloud for IBM. So it was not surprising that he worked out there was a need for this kind of service in his home country.
"I went to the telecoms companies and the biggest motivation was accessing content which (with local bandwidth) was terrible. I said to them, maybe if we build a local cloud, the OTTs might bring the content to us for local caching".
Mauritania was once a relatively sleepy Francophone country but recently the start-up wave sweeping Africa has seen the opening of Startup Mauritania, a local start-up accelerator. Mauritania does a lot of trade with China and Europe and with oil and gas coming on stream, this trade is expected to grow larger. Post the recent elections - in which the winning candidate's victory was contested - things are taking time to settle down.
When Facebook was first available in Mauritania, everybody said the country was not really ready for it. Two months later, everyone was using it and there are now 770,000 users. Moctar estimates that 50% of mobile users own smartphones and featurephones that can access the internet and that most of them are using Facebook and WhatsApp. He recalls a conversation with a local telco where the person was speaking to said:" If the bandwidth was faster, no-one would use the phone!"
There are not many multimedia apps but some basic apps. In the capital Nouakchott, there is an Uber-like app called TransVip from a local company:" Their users connect and make a taxi reservation. They can also track the arrival of the taxi they have ordered. They've done an iOS version but they're still testing the Android version".
Netflix lists Mauritania as an African country it's available in but he says he doesn't know how many users there are:" I have access to Netflix here in Nouakchott but it's through my US account. Things are moving very fast on one dimension but very slowly on another".
Moctar's own company understands the importance of local content has various plans in place.:We have a website under development that is like a Course Management System, which will be able to offer multimedia course content for a prominent Mauritanian polytechnic. It was content I was going to offer and I will encourage other professors to do a lot of YouTube and multimedia content".
"We're also in the process of launching a medical management system for hospitals with an open EMR. We want to see if the local hospitals can benefit from using it. We also have another mobile app, a scheduling app for Kinross, a mining company. (which is investing in theTasiast gold mine)... The problem is the content. If there is a cloud and data centre, they can access multimedia content".
"We want to host some apps and websites and the next step is to build a proper data centre. At the moment we have a server room. With a small data centre, we would run everything. I'm still looking for a collaboration with local telcos to get more bandwidth. These things take time".
He has started a discussion with one of the larger telcos which has two data centres, one in East Africa and one in Dubai. It doesn't yet have a cloud on its premises but has not yet budgeted for it. It wants to be able to host multimedia content and run digital advertising through a local cloud.
The second of the two private telcos has its own servers and might be interested. The snag? The Government has increased its taxes arbitrarily. As a result it now says it is loss-making and doesn't want to invest more at the moment.
There are no independent data centres in the country. The Government is building a data centre so people can host on its server:"It is interested in us as a client. But we don't know what the current status is. It was talking about completion in February or March 2020".
"Our data centre will also be an IXP. A big room full of racks and either Tier II or Tier III. But we're stuck in a 'chicken-and-egg" situation at the moment. We have to provide services to encourage people to use them".
The cost of data from the main providers is US$40-50 per month or US$10-12 on a weekly basis or US$2 on a daily basis. Most people buy on a daily basis:"The price is high but most people have access." Quality has improved from a year ago but it's still not great. We need better international connectivity and need to have a local cloud otherwise things will be limited by bandwidth".
There are no independent ISPs so Xseeg is also thinking about becoming one. At present, Xseeg is self-funded but is in the process of looking for investors:"We're now seeing interest from a lot of different people."