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Infrastructure and Community Development 11 September 2020

How Peering and Infrastructure Development Improved Connectivity in Kenya, Speeding Economic Growth

The country can become a continental digital leader with strengthened Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).

In January this year, Internet users in Kenya reached 22.86 million, a 16% jump from 2019. A leap that was made with no major impact on network quality and speed, and no increase in connectivity costs. Between 2012 and now, the percentage of mobile broadband subscribers increased 100-fold to cover nearly 42% of the country’s population, while the price of data decreased by 50%. This would have been unimaginable a decade ago when around 70% of the country’s traffic went through Europe.

A recent Internet Society report shows IXPs played an important role in this success. The report shines a light on how the combination of peering and Internet infrastructure development improved connectivity in Kenya. It discusses how Kenya was able to localize Internet traffic – from 30% in 2012 to 70% in 2019 – by growing its IXP membership, through attracting local, regional, and international networks, including popular Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). This allowed the local networks to efficiently exchange regional and international traffic without incurring major additional costs.

The report reveals how informed stakeholders and the local technical community in Kenya took deliberate steps to develop and grow peering.

Peering is a process of exchanging traffic between and among networks via IXPs. The Kenya IXP (KIXP) founded in 2000 started out with six members. Today, it has 56 members that exchange traffic locally. Facebook is one of the popular Content Delivery Networks that peers at the KIXP. For Andrew Baskett, Edge Strategy Manager at Facebook, the company’s approach is to support local technical, business, and policy experts as they develop low cost interconnection environments, and this can happen easily via IXPs.

For example, “Facebook’s Edge point of presence (PoP) at iColo in Mombasa enables us to reliably support an excellent quality of experience for people accessing [online] services in Kenya and the region,” he says. KIXP has two nodes; one in Mombasa and another in Nairobi.

“Peering enables these networks to more cost effectively reach Facebook content, enabling them to provide more affordable pricing for their customers when accessing our services and the wider Internet,” he adds.

This collaboration between networks, which saw KIXP grow its membership by 124%, resulted in 1900% traffic expansion from 1Gbps in 2012 to nearly 20Gbps at the peak of traffic exchanged in 2019, according to the report. Furthermore, the report states that the cost savings amount to USD 6,000,000 per year.

KIXP has been able to attract major international Internet service providers, such as Hurricane Electric (HE), which peers at KIXP, and subsequently announces over 80,000 prefixes – nearly 10% of the prefixes found on the global Internet. This means that Internet users in Kenya have efficient access to HE’s large and global network through peering at KIXP. In addition, it makes KIXP more attractive to networks from neighboring countries that would like to benefit from peering with both local and international networks.

It has increased the level of Internet speed, connectivity costs, and made it possible to host international content locally. Facebook, for example, is able to “support almost all of Kenyan traffic from within Kenya…and the delivery of some traffic to neighboring countries with low latency,” says Baskett.

The Kenyan government sees transformational opportunities with a growing digital environment. It is a major content provider in the country, with over 200 government services available online, while key agencies such as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) connect to the KIXP.

Kenya’s digital economy blueprint and 2019 data protection policy has the ambition to improve Kenya’s ability to advance economic growth via the Internet.

The report recognizes that integrated policy frameworks have played a significant role in building the country’s Internet economy.

The report also stresses that Kenya must strengthen its IXPs and cross-border Internet infrastructure development for greater resiliency and redundancy in order to become a leader in the digital economy in Africa. Baskett shares this view. Commenting on the report, he says the country should also consider supporting local wholesale Internet providers to continue to provide services to better connect the country and region.

“Peering works best when supported by a strong policy and regulatory environment, competitive data center, wholesale, and Internet Service Provider landscape, and most importantly — an enthusiastic local community of advocates,” he concluded.

Internet Exchange Points are vital to bringing faster and more affordable Internet to people. Learn how you can support them!


Photo of Tunapanda Institute ©Nyani Quarmyne

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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