Maximising potential of Internet exchange points in Nigeria
With the Internet Exchange Point (IXP) facilities in about four different locations across the country, the need for businesses to leverage the infrastructure and peering to improve Internet reliability and lower cost has been re-echoed. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN writes.
Globally, the Internet has become an essential tool for many people. Billions of people use it every day for checking their emails, visiting their favourite websites and purchasing in eCommerce sites.
Many people know how to use the network of networks. However, just a few people know how the Internet works such that every user can see the information requested at any moment; even if the user is on the other divide of the world.
While the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) put global Internet users at 5.16 billion, statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) showed that 155 million people in the country access the Internet through the narrowband, while some 84 million surf it via the broadband infrastructure, which has engendered globalisation.
Indeed at the centre of this globalisation are Internet exchange points (IXPs) – facilities where all Internet players can interconnect with one another, improving quality of service and reducing transmission costs.
IXPs’ reach and expansion
IXPs have already played a key role in the development of an advanced Internet ecosystem across Asia, Europe and North America. The number of IXPs is increasing in Africa, despite the relatively challenging economic and telecoms environment in this region. Notably, there has been significant growth of the facility in Nigeria. There are about five IXPs in the country.
The establishment of an IXP not only enables local Internet service providers (ISPs) to save on international transit costs, but also reduces latency by avoiding sending domestic traffic overseas for exchange, and the resulting better performance can increase usage. To the extent that the IXP begins to build critical mass, involving most or all of the ISPs, it will also begin to attract content providers, along with business, academic and government users, and thereby become the centre of a vibrant Internet ecosystem in the country. Further, the IXP can also begin to attract international content and connectivity providers, becoming a regional hub for Internet traffic.
Why must businesses connect, peer?
THE importance of IXPs came to the fore again at the first webinar, from the series for the year, organised by Rack Centre, titled: “Interconnection and Peering: The role of IXPs and Peering to drive traffic efficient business and ecosystem growth in Nigeria.”
Leading the charge, the webinar series, the keynote speaker, Chief Executive Officer, IXPN, Muhammad Rudman, explained that the significance of IXPs in improving Internet penetration couldn’t be overemphasised because it helps to interconnect all the network operators towards the exchange of traffic, which is the foundation of any digital economy.
Rudman noted that IXPs remain a critical piece of infrastructure needed to help improve Internet access by ensuring that Internet traffic is localised, making it faster and affordable.
He disclosed that 90 per cent of Internet traffic in Nigeria is mainly on mobile devices stating that there is a need for traffic to shift to other devices.
The IXPN boss identified infrastructure, inter connectivity, content application, and cloud as the critical technical infrastructure required to support Internet ecosystem growth in the region.
He disclosed that there are now 110 connected networks on the exchange point, stressing that there are also seven Point of Presence (PoP) in Lagos and that IXPN is in Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu.
In his opening remarks, the Head, Interconnection and Exchange Platforms, AF-CIX, Obinna Adumike, noted that it has become necessary for multiple IXPs to be present in regional markets, as this would improve the quality and reliability of the Internet.
“You will notice that a significant amount of Automated Systems Numbers (ASN) are currently not accounted for within the interconnection and peering space, if you look at the sectors such as finance and education. If we get these sectors into the peering and interconnection space, they will deliver better service to their clients and students”, he said.
Also speaking, the Edge Strategy Manager at Meta, Ben Ryall, explained that the intended goal of keeping Internet traffic local places businesses at a better advantage as it would help to reduce cost and improve reliability.
He noted that while competition helps drive reliability in the market, competition from the mobile network operators (MNOs) against the ISPs have kept the latter from growth because they operate on the same frequencies, “saying prices are not borderless, so, they are not allowed to grow.”
On her part, Peering and Interconnect Specialist, NAP Africa, Yolandi Cloete, noted that the challenge regarding the commercial viability of IXPs lies with the understanding of peering and how companies or networks can benefit.
Cloete said there is huge potential for peering in Africa, stressing, “we just need more education of this to expose the potential benefits.”
According to her, the most common way to exchange Internet traffic is through “peering,” adding peering is an interconnection of Internet networks that agree to freely exchange traffic.
Testifying on the importance of peering and connecting to the IXP, Chief Technical Officer, Swift Talk, Austin Uwudia, said when the firm joined the exchange, “we peer with customers adequately well. The IXP has played a huge role and ensured cost savings. We currently share content with banks. IXP makes the service better, the customers are happier. Latency has improved, we don’t need to travel with content abroad, we do it locally.”
How does an Internet Exchange Point work?
According to Stackscale, to understand how IXPs work and their importance on current connection speeds, “it would be convenient to put oneself in the user’s shoes while he uses the Internet.
“When a user is in front of a computer or any other device connected to the Internet and he launches a request to visit a website, that request creates a data package that travels to the server where the data is located. This machine processes the request and returns the information.
“The problem is that the ISP does not always have a direct connection to the server that must return the requested information. When this happens, the package must be able to find an alternative path to arrive at its destination.
“That is when Internet Exchange Points step in. They are in charge of providing this alternative route. Therefore, the package will go through one or several IXPs until it arrives at its final destination.”