Forging Meaningful Synergies between NRENs and CSPs - The Case of Uganda’s NREN (RENU)
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In the first five years of its existence, when RENU was not able to operate its own network, an ef-fort was made to establish a symbiotic relationship with a then leading commercial service pro-vider (CSP). A consortium of willing Ugandan R&E institutions engaged this CSP under the aus-pices of RENU in a first attempt at collective bargaining to get the maximum possible discount on bandwidth unit price. The Uganda R&E institutions’ bandwidth purchase consortium that emerged was in operation for about four years before ending acrimoniously in December 2013. This was after RENU succeeded to complete the process specified by UbuntuNet Alliance for its member NRENs becoming eligible for admission to the EU-supported AfricaConnect project in September 2013, thus becoming eligible to benefit from AfricaConnect. RENU’s receipt of a private network operator’s (PNO) license from the national regulator com-bined with its eligibility for AfricaConnect, created a unique opportunity for Uganda’s research and education (R&E) institutions to initiate their cooperatively-owned private network. This net-work would be dedicated to serving their connectivity, access and collaboration needs, to empow-er their communities of practice, and thus trigger the development of a more effective national research and education network (NREN) in Uganda. This paper presents RENU’s experience on this journey from inception, through various growth stages. It focuses on the meaningful synergies that have emerged between the NREN and a still growing number of CSPs by intentionally cultivating mutually beneficial business opportunities. The pursuit of competitiveness, the methodology for enhancing it competitiveness and the result-ing impact are also reported and illustrated, from a community-driven perspective for Uganda’s R&E institutions, both public and private. The paper assesses the failure of the initial attempt to develop a symbiotic working relationship with a CSP. The process of adopting a model for shared infrastructure access is explained. Exploitation of a zoned public/private partnership environment supplemented by international connectivity, provided through development partner assistance, is highlighted as a combination that triggered a more viable academia/industry partnership regime. The paper also outlines the experience of initiating a dedicated R&E network that was (pre-determined) to operate as a community-owned and community-driven network, and highlights the effect of the providential rapid-growth phase that resulted into viability and maturity faster than would have ordinarily been possible. The goals and objectives that guided the new approach for nurturing the NREN initiative, the business and ownership models adopted are presented and ex-plained along with opportunities that were explored, what worked and what did not work, the challenges experienced and how they were mitigated are also presented. Finally, this paper reports RENU’s experience in its effort to mainstream the use of meaningful synergies with CSPs and documents the lessons learnt so far. It provides performance evaluation over the first 30 months of stand-alone network operation through a tabular outcome to purpose review (OPR) report plus the trending of unit-price and aggregate bandwidth over the same period.