Djoliba, the unified network boosting connectivity in West Africa

The end of 2020 coincides with the commissioning of the first African fibre optic backbone, a result of bringing together terrestrial and submarine cable infrastructures. With the Djoliba network, West Africa is revolutionising its connectivity and extending it to the rest of the world.

“The Djoliba network was created by pooling several Orange terrestrial and submarine infrastructures in West Africa, for a secure end-to-end link between eight countries in the region”

While the connectivity rate for people in Africa has grown dramatically in recent years, it faces a growing need and must address the challenges of landlocked areas as well. Of the continent’s connectivity projects, which are expanding network accessibility, one is characterised by an innovative approach to its design and operation.

A unified and secure network for West Africa

This new infrastructure, called Djoliba, was designed by pooling several Orange network assets in West Africa to provide secure, end-to-end links between eight countries in the region. It relies on more than 10,000 kilometres of terrestrial fibre optic cables and more than 10,000 kilometres of submarine cables, and on local expertise specifically in the form of a dedicated supervision centre in Dakar. “Djoliba supports the connectivity upgrade in West Africa in several ways”, said Julien Léger, Head of Strategic Projects at Orange. “First, it improves the quality of service offered with its Very High Broadband service of up to 100 Gbps and 99.99% availability because of its high-redundancy mesh network. Second, because it is seamless and simplifies service delivery: Previously, a user who wanted a link between two countries had to buy two services from two carriers, with two different qualities of service. With Djoliba, for the same link, the user will have only one service, and will benefit from a single contact and customer service. Finally, this cross-border network, which covers 16 points of presence (PoP) in the region, opens up West Africa to the rest of the world by connecting with hundreds of other PoPs in Europe, America and Asia. Djoliba countries can thus access a wide range of solutions including VPN, IP transit and so on, over a very wide bandwidth granularity (2 Mbps to 100 Gbps).”

Specific technical governance

The asset pooling initiated as part of the project involves both infrastructure and human expertise. Specific governance has been put in place between teams across all the countries. In particular, a technical committee defined architecture and engineering, decided on the sourcing choices for WDM layer transmission equipment and IP layer routers, and coordinated their deployment. On the operational side, ad hoc procedures were developed and a dedicated supervision team was assembled in Dakar to manage all aspects of the Djoliba network 24/7. In addition, the implementation of maintenance operations is based on local teams in each of the countries covered.

Design and deployment to tight time-scales

In the end, the Djoliba network was able to get off the ground—and fully involved—in record time: “The selection of suppliers and technologies was carried out early in the summer of 2019 and the first orders for transmission equipment were launched in October of the same year. Thanks to the expertise and dynamism of teams in the field, deployment could therefore be completed in a year, in sometimes restricted geographical areas and contexts, increased in their complexity as a result of the health crisis.” In less than two years, Djoliba has provided West Africa with a seamless, unified network that is efficient, redundant and secure.

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