Roch Glitho is an Associate Professor of Networking and Telecommunications at the Concordia Institute of Information Systems Engineering – CIISE where he holds a Canada Research Chair in End-User Services Engineering for Communications Networks and leads the Telecommunications Service Engineering Laboratory. He will be the General Chair of AFRICOMM 2015, the Seventh EAI International Conference on e-Infrastructure and e-Services for Developing Countries (December 15-16, Cotonou, Benin). In this interview, Dr. Glitho introduces us the reality that African developing countries face in the context of electronic infrastructure and services.
What is the central topic of AFRICOMM 2015 and why is it important?
The central topic of AFRICOMM 2015 is Information and Communication Technology (ICT) applications for developing countries. This fits well in the overall theme of AFRICOMM, i.e. e-Infrastructure and e-Services for developing countries. Nowadays, ICT applications cover all facets of business and everyday life. They could be a powerful enabler for development. However, their wide scale deployment still faces several roadblocks including:
A small farmer living in a remote village may not be aware of the very existence of “social networks”, the very powerful ICT application which could help her/him in sharing experience and exchanging information with other farmers living in other villages. Anyhow, social networks may not be available in the village since there might be Internet connectivity. If she/he decides to go to the closest city/village where there is Internet connectivity, she/he may quickly realize that she/he cannot pay the fees. Even if we assume that it is just after the harvest and she/he is able to pay the fees, the last reality which will strike is that there is today no room in the social network realm for people like the small farmer who can neither read nor write.
What is AFRICOMM’s vision and how would you describe its position within the scientific community?
AFRICOMM aims at being a premier venue where policy makers, academics, researchers and practitioners from industry meet to discuss the latest developments in ICT for developing countries with a focus on African countries. Being a premier venue implies of course that only very high quality papers are accepted for presentation. The acceptance rate this year for instance is 33 % (17 long papers out of 51 submissions, plus short papers and posters).
What have been the recent developments in e‐Infrastructure and e‐Services for Developing Countries? What are the biggest challenges that e‐Infrastructure and e‐Services for Developing Countries is currently facing?
There have been several recent developments in e-Infrastructure and e-Services for developing countries. Some of them will be discussed during this conference. An example is the use of TV white space for connectivity. Another example is the design and implementation of National Research and Education Network (NRENs). However, there are still many challenges ahead.
The fundamental challenge remains funding. This is valid for both industrial R&D and academic research (which depends more and more these days on funding from industry). While, for instance, inclusive social networks available, affordable and accessible to individuals who can neither read nor write would certainly be very useful in developing countries, do such networks have any remote chance of being commercially viable? If they do not, they are then not very likely to be researched, designed and implemented due to the lack of funding. A good news though, more and more ICT companies are now betting on the next billion users (i.e. users from the developing countries) and this is being gradually translated into more and more funding for industrial R&D in e-Infrastructure and e-Services for developing countries. Some of R&D industrial centres focusing on these issues are now present in Africa.
What are your expectations for AFRICOMM 2015?
I expect AFRICOMM 2015 to be a major milestone in establishing AFRICOMM as a premier venue where policy makers, academics, researchers and practitioners from industry meet to discuss the latest developments in ICT for developing countries with a focus on African countries.