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It’s boom time for Africa’s internet exchange points development

By , IT in government editor
Africa , 12 Jul 2021
South Africa is the nation with the most developed internet ecosystem in Africa.
South Africa is the nation with the most developed internet ecosystem in Africa.

The number of internet exchange points (IXPs) established on the African continent has grown from 19 in 2012, to 46 in 2020.

This indicates a 58% increase over the past few years, according to the Internet Society’s latest report, titled “Moving Toward an Interconnected Africa: The 80/20 Initiative”.

While IXPs were founded in 1996, global non-profit organisation the Internet Society notes the burst of activity started in 2011, continuing over the last few years.

The organisation emphasises that IXPs enable the local exchange of internet traffic instead of using expensive international transit routes. This not only makes internet access much more affordable, it also improves the quality of access by providing more direct network connections, it notes.

The latest report, which examines Africa’s internet ecosystem and current status of IXPs, shows the significant gains made in advancing IXPs on the continent between 2012 and 2020.

It states there is a boom in this type of internet infrastructure development on the continent, with more than half of African countries with an IXP. Six countries – Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania – have more than one IXP.

Similarly, the presence of international content delivery networks has significantly increased, along with locally-developed content, it states.

Dawit Bekele, Africa regional vice-president for the Internet Society, explains: “Thanks to the continued work with partners over the years, we have many more sustainable IXPs that exchange a considerable amount of internet traffic in Africa. But there’s still work to do to ensure more internet traffic is exchanged on the continent.

“A key success factor for IXPs is that governments understand the value that internet infrastructure provides, which encourages the adoption of policies and regulations that enable internet ecosystems to thrive,” adds Bekele.

South Africa is the nation with the most developed internet ecosystem in Africa, based on the Internet Society’s review of all the countries in Africa with IXPs.

The report shows SA has achieved the goal of at least 80% localised traffic, followed by Kenya and Nigeria. “These countries have the most interconnected networks and have succeeded in exchanging 70-80% of their traffic locally.”

For its report, the organisation says it identified three stages of development, depending on the level of localised traffic, and driven by connections between and among internet service providers and content providers.

Based on the internet ecosystem stages of development, stage one refers to when the IXP is mainly used to exchange local traffic between local access providers; it localises up to approximately 30% of total traffic.

In terms of stage two, international content is made available locally, attracted by the IXP and its member networks. This stage localises approximately 30% to 70% of total traffic.

In stage three, the Internet Society notes that local content is hosted locally, rather than in data centres located abroad. This particular stage localises 70% or more of total traffic.

The report notes that in 2012, in Kenya and Nigeria, approximately 30% of each country’s traffic was localised. However, this had significantly shifted by 2020.

“Between 2012 and 2020, both Kenya and Nigeria moved from the cusp of stage two, with 30% localised traffic, to the cusp of stage three, with 70% localised traffic. South Africa is the only country in Africa currently in stage three.

“Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa also have the only IXPs in the region comprising 50 or more connected networks. The number of members at an IXP is a strong indicator of the health of a country’s Internet ecosystem – both that there are so many networks and that they are all connected to the IXP.”

Local is lekker

The Internet Society highlights that in 2010, its team in Africa set itself an ambitious goal that 80% of African internet traffic would be locally accessible by 2020.

However, the 80/20 goal was not reached by last year, even though half the countries in Africa have IXPs.

As a result, the organisation says the community should set a new goal with the confidence that its activities will continue to have a strong, positive influence on the African IXP ecosystem.

“IXPs provide significant savings by localising internet traffic. A network can save up to $240 000 per year by connecting to a local IXP.

“A long-time community goal for Africa is that 80% of its internet traffic originates within the continent. For more than 10 years, the Internet Society has been supporting this goal by promoting IXPs as focal points for localising traffic, lowering the cost and latency of traffic exchange, and increasing the resilience of a country’s internet ecosystem.”

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