Keeping traffic local: Why peering and IXPs are Africa’s digital lifeline

The recent cable cut in West Africa, which disrupted online services for millions, served as a stark reminder of Africa’s dependence on a limited set of internet gateways. This overreliance signalled the exposure of the continent’s digital infrastructure to vulnerabilities, thereby necessitating the need to create reliable alternatives that will salvage the situation in times of uncertainty.

Interestingly, it’s not all gloom and doom. There is a beacon of hope in traffic localization and peering at Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).

What the region experienced in March can be described as “the peril of transit-only traffic.” This situation represents the traditional long-distance travel of African internet traffic via submarine cables to reach global networks, which is referred to as transit. This dependence creates failure points, as witnessed in the recent cable cut. The disruption cascades, impacting businesses, education, communication, and emergency services.

Looking to the brighter side, there is the alternative of keeping internet traffic local, at Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). This fosters sound connectivity and operational efficiency at lightning speed. Below is an analysis of the advantages of peering and localizing at IXPs.

The Power of Localization: Keeping Data Close to Home

Traffic localization offers a powerful countermeasure to this dependence on transit. By keeping internet traffic within Africa through peering at your local IXPs, data travels significantly shorter distances. This shift translates to a multitude of benefits:

  • Enhanced Resilience: IXPs provide an alternative route for data, effectively minimizing the impact of submarine cable failures. Disruptions become inconveniences, not roadblocks. In the event of a submarine cable cut, internet traffic can be rerouted through IXP, ensuring continued connectivity and mitigating the severity of disruptions.• Unleashing Speed: Shorter distances mean faster data transfer speeds. Imagine web browsing, streaming services, and online applications working seamlessly and without delays. Localization eliminates the need for data to travel vast distances, significantly reducing latency and improving the overall user experience.• Cost-cutting Edge: Bypassing expensive international connections lowers overall internet costs for businesses and consumers alike. Localization reduces reliance on international transit fees, making internet access more affordable for everyone. This can have a particularly significant impact on developing economies, fostering greater internet penetration and promoting digital inclusion.

The Heart of Local Peering
An interconnection hub that can help with localization and peering; AF-CIX, hosted at Rack Centre, is a game-changer in West Africa’s digital landscape. A neutral interconnection Internet traffic exchange platform that interconnects global networks and, above all, network operators and content providers on the west coast of Africa. Acting as a central meeting point for multiple networks, AF-CIX serves as a central marketplace where different internet service providers (ISPs) and content delivery networks (CDNs) can come together. Through established peering agreements, these networks can directly exchange traffic, ensuring that local data stays local. Thus, fostering a robust and efficient internet ecosystem within the continent, which simultaneously reduces reliance on external infrastructure and promotes greater control over internet traffic flow.

Benefits Beyond Resilience: A Catalyst for Growth

As stated earlier, the recent cable cut is a double-edged sword that serves as a stark reminder of Africa’s vulnerability while also presenting itself as a powerful growth opportunity for the continent. The growth opportunity is in the embrace of traffic localization and peering at AF-CIX, which will enable West Africa to build a more resilient, robust, and self-sufficient digital future. AF-CIX, with its state-of-the-art facilities, stands ready as the digital shield of the region, safeguarding connectivity and driving progress.

AF-CIX goes beyond simply enabling peering. It operates with a core set of values that underpins its mission to empower West Africa’s digital ecosystem:

  • Neutrality: AF-CIX provides a neutral platform where all participants have equal access and opportunity. This fosters a fair and competitive internet environment.
  • Openness: AF-CIX is committed to open peering policies, encouraging interconnection and collaboration among all networks.
  •  Security: AF-CIX prioritizes the security of its infrastructure and its participants’ data. Rigorous security protocols are implemented to ensure a safe and reliable peering environment.
  • Innovation: AF-CIX actively promotes innovation within the internet ecosystem. It fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing to drive the development of new technologies and solutions.

Supporting Participants, Shaping the Future

AF-CIX is actively committed to supporting its participants by offering industry-leading insights through the following activities:

  • Technical Expertise: provision of technical expertise and guidance to participants throughout the peering process. This ensures a smooth and efficient onboarding experience.
  • Educational Programmes: conducts workshops and educational programmes regularly to raise awareness about peering and its benefits. This empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions about their internet infrastructure.
  • Community Building: fosters a strong community among its participants by organizing industry events and conferences that provide a platform for knowledge sharing, best practice exchange, and collaboration.

A Surge in Reliance: A Testament to Value

The cable cut experience in Africa, underscored the critical role AF-CIX plays. In the wake of the disruption, the exchange witnessed a remarkable 50% surge in traffic. This surge serves as a powerful testament to the reliance existing participants place on AF-CIX as a valuable resource during critical times. It highlights the effectiveness of traffic localization and peering in mitigating the impact of disruptions and ensuring continued connectivity.

The Road Ahead
By working together, governments, telecom operators, ISPs, and all stakeholders can leverage IXPs to create a more connected West Africa. This will not only ensure uninterrupted connectivity but also unlock a future brimming with economic growth, social development, and boundless innovation. The recent cable cut highlighted Africa’s digital vulnerability. However, it also presents an opportunity. By embracing traffic localization and IXPs, Africa can build a more resilient, robust, and self-sufficient internet ecosystem, paving the way for a brighter digital future.

Visit today to learn more about peering and become part of the movement towards a brighter digital future.
Together, with AF-CIX as the digital shield and a strong foundation built on core values, West Africa can step into a future rich with opportunity and empowered by a resilient, interconnected digital landscape.

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