In an age where internet connectivity is the bedrock for day to day activities such as banking, access to social and government services, have we considered what will happen if our internet connection suddenly goes down? This recently happened across West Africa last week due to two submarine cable cuts on both the West African Cable System (WACS) and SAT-3 cable, off the coast Gabon and Congo, fibre optic cables which link countries in West and South Africa to Europe.
Although other submarine cables such as MainOne, ACE and Glo were able provide backup internet capacities to the providers being served via the WACS and SAT3 cables, the impact would have been a lot less if the affected Service Providers (ISP) in these countries were inter-connected in-country and if the data required to deliver critical services in these countries were hosted in local data centers.
Such interconnections are enabled by Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) that enable network carriers exchange traffic among themselves close to the markets they serve. In Nigeria, with access to the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) and West Africa Internet Exchange (WAF-IX), internet users were able to still access web content such as Google and Facebook amongst others during the submarine cable cut because these Global OTTs have localized their data to bring their content closer to the eye balls that they serve. However, the same cannot be said of various Nigerian online based businesses and service providers who host their data offshore or who are not directly connected to local exchanges.
One major benefit of hosting data and inter-connecting locally, is that should service to the country be disrupted, basic services that essential for day to day activities can still be delivered online. Another benefit is that the latency will become far reduced as transactions are not going through Europe for completion but rather travels a far shorter distance to the website and/or transaction engine hosted locally.
Furthermore, by peering at local exchanges, customers reduced internet transit costs due to the elimination of the international transit through overseas carriers.
To further illustrate the benefits of internet exchange points; imagine that you live in Lagos, but your email service provider has their servers only in London. If you’re forwarding an email to your neighbor, it will first go to London before it goes across the street. It would be much faster if your email server provider had their servers in Lagos and were connected to multiple IXPs within the country rather than connecting abroad first. Though all internet traffic eventually reaches its intended destination, interconnection of all service providers and full enablement of local traffic exchange vis IXPs will aid faster delivery, improving performance from the end user’s standpoint.
Recently, the CBN has included this requirement to interconnect with local IXPs as a requirement for payment processors, but the requirement needs to go beyond these new online providers to cover the entire ecosystem across Nigeria.
This is a strategic issue globally and countries such as Russia have recently conducted tests to ensure internet services in the country will continue to function if they are disconnected from the global Internet for any reason.
A board member of the West Africa Internet exchange (WAF-IX) and COO of VDT, Mrs. Bimbo Ikumariegbe, said, “Internet Service providers connected to IXPs create a local community thus reducing the routing of traffic through international links. By keeping traffic local, traffic is reduced on international links, providing significant improvement on local Internet performance for individuals and businesses while ISPs gain substantial cost savings for their networks”.
Speaking on the importance, Muhammed Rudman, IXPN CEO, said “By leveraging connections to IXPs, internet traffic originating and terminating on any network in Nigeria will remain in-country ensuring the international cables become less congested and more efficient, leading to improved performance of applications and websites, reduced costs and minimized traffic bottlenecks for Internet traffic in Nigeria”
We need to recognize that the Internet has become an essential tool for daily existence in Nigeria and ensure our service providers leverage on local internet exchanges to ensure sustainability of essential services irrespective of global internet disruptions that the providers may be unable to prevent.