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Infrastructure and Community Development 30 September 2020

Nigeria’s IXPs – Enabling Better Connectivity, Faster Internet Delivery, and Improving Internet Service

Nigeria grew its local Internet traffic from  30% to 70% in the past eight years, connecting more people, increasing speed, and reducing costs. They did this through Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), according to the Internet Society report Anchoring the African Internet Ecosystem: Lessons from Kenya and Nigeria’s Internet Exchange Points Growth.

Between 2012 and 2020, the number of peering networks has grown from 30 to 71 and new exchange platforms have been set up in Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt. More networks and more IXPs increased the amount of Internet traffic exchanged in Nigeria from 300 Mbps to peak traffic of 125 Gbps in Lagos.

Muhammed Rudman started the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) in 2006, when the industry was developing. Most networks did not peer in Nigeria. One major submarine cable, Sat3, offered services across the country with others getting service via VSATs. This meant ninety-nine percent of websites were hosted abroad.

“The terrain was tough,” says Rudman, an IT veteran and founding Chief Executive Officer of IXPN, which is based in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. Approaching Internet service providers, he was often asked how many networks were already peering. Without any networks exchanging traffic, he’d often hear, “When you have a few networks, come back, we’ll peer then.”

Rudman persevered and there was change. “If you don’t connect now to the first IXP who will become a pioneer network?” Such simple messages won ISPs over. Gradually, more ISPs believed in the project. Initially, no partnership agreements were signed to encourage more networks to peer. “To build relationships, we deliberately avoided formal processes in order to focus on peering through shaking of hands,” Rudman says. Later, organizations were requested to sign agreements.

IXPs help in localizing traffic exchange between ISPs in a given market and attract content providers to deliver content more efficiently.

But for an IXP to succeed, it needs a community of passionate people on the ground: policymakers, regulators, and businesses embracing it and working in collaboration to create these essential local traffic anchors and the ecosystem around it.

Collaboration is the key, says Rudman. IXPs affect everyone.

The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) provided seed funding to support the initial start up of the IXP. At one point, it was a one-man show. Rudman ran the accounts, administration, and advocated for peering. “I was determined to see the project working,” he says.

Because the Internet was only in the big cities, Rudman’s initial focus was in Lagos. He then expanded to other regions. IXPN now has points of presence in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Enugu – five of the country’s regions. The next destination will be in the northeast of the country.

In Abuja, traffic has significantly improved.  There is more localization of content, he says with a hint of satisfaction. He sees further opportunity for growth in people creating content in their local languages. Each region in Nigeria has its own language.

Ben Roberts, Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Liquid Telecom, a company that peers at IXPN, says the development of IXPs has led to reduction in costs for Internet access and enhanced service delivery.

Roberts says for companies in Africa who are interested in peering, getting started is just a matter of reaching out to the right people. He says meetings like the African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) are critical.

AfPIF is a meeting that takes place in different locations across Africa each year. It is primarily a forum for people who are interested in peering to meet, conduct business, improve IXPs, mentor new IXPs and businesses, and share ideas.

Roberts says the growing reliance on the Internet to replace face-to-face interactions during lockdowns and social distancing makes IXPs even more critical to Africa.

Globally, the coronavirus lockdowns have created a new digital reality and caused Internet use to surge by up to 70% in some countries. This has led to “rapid growth in online learning, work videoconferences, e-commerce, streaming video entertainment, and more.”

In this new world, Roberts says, peering is critical to his long-term business plan.

“Peering in Africa allows us to give the best experience to our Internet users, by connecting them over the best quality affordable connectivity to the best Internet content and applications,” he says, adding that global Internet platforms have come to install network and data centers in Africa, drawn by the requirement to connect at peering points closer to their users.

“This benefits all in the African Internet Ecosystem, and fosters local innovation, such as teachers now rapidly switching to deliver online classes for children to keep them learning while schools are closed,” Roberts says.

Read Anchoring the African Internet Ecosystem: Lessons from Kenya and Nigeria’s Internet Exchange Points Growth

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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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