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Growing the Internet 22 June 2020

Explainer: What is an Internet Exchange Point (IXP)?

An IXP is essential technical infrastructure  where networks come together to connect and exchange Internet traffic.

Some of the types of networks that connect to exchange traffic are: Internet service providers (ISPs), mobile operators and content delivery networks (CDNs) such as Google, Baidu, Akamai, and Facebook.

Building a successful IXP is not just a technical engineering job – time and effort needs to be invested in developing trust, common understanding and mutual agreements in the local community.

Many of the people and organisations involved in setting up an IXP are traditionally competitors. By deciding to work togetherthey contribute to a better, more resilient local Internet infrastructure. This happens when there are people on the ground, championing Internet access for everyone and build a community to support this cause. For an IXP, a strong community is the foundation for success.

How IXPs work

If you want to see your neighbour, taking a route that sends you across town and back again is not the quickest or most efficient way to get there.

And yet, in many parts of the world, that is often what happens with Internet traffic. An email you send to your neighbour may travel through entirely different countries, or even continents, before it lands in their inbox. This happens when the infrastructure that would allow your email to travel to your neighbours house using the shortest route isn’t in place.

IXPs help create shorter, more direct routes for Internet traffic. They provide a more affordable alternative to sending local Internet traffic abroad, only to have to return that traffic via an international link, which can be an expensive business.

For an IXP to function it needs: a switch, routers, servers, a neutral location, appropriate power sources, cooling systems, security, and technical experts to run and manage it. For it to work well, it also needs people who believe that by making human connections we can make stronger technical networks.

The benefits of IXPs

IXPs are vital to bringing a faster and more affordable Internet to people. They make the Internet:

Cheaper: Because IXPs ensure that traffic between local senders and local recipients uses relatively cheap local connections, rather than expensive international links, the cost savings for ISPs can be significant – 20% or more in some countries.

Better: The switching capabilities of IXPs allow Internet traffic to be redirected when there are connectivity problems on the network. So, for example, if there’s a breakdown in international connectivity, an IXP can keep local traffic flowing within the country. This contributes to a more resilient Internet.

Faster: By providing more direct network connections, IXPs improve the quality of access for local users. Access speeds for local content improves as much as tenfold with an IXP in place, because traffic is routed more directly.

More opportunities: IXPs attract a range of local and international operators because they provide them with a more cost-effective way to access potential local Internet users. This spurs innovation and creates business opportunities – it encourages local people to produce more relevant local content and applications.

The difference IXPs are making

An IXP – KIXP in Kenya – played a vital role in millions of proud Kenyans’ ability to witness Eliud Kipchoge break a world record when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon in the INEOS Challenge.

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