AXIS – Boosting Africa’s economy by keeping traffic local

When the first Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) was held in 2010, participants were in praise of the economic benefits of sharing content locally, and the contribution to overall business growth.

Though the number of countries with Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) were few, mainly in Eastern and Southern Africa, there was general consensus that the number of IXPs needed to grow, in order to lower cost of connectivity further.

Two years later, the African Union Commission partnered with the Internet Society to implement the first phase of the African Internet Exchange System (AXIS). The project was meant to provide training and technical assistance to facilitate the establishment of IXPs in 30 AU Member States.

With help from subject matter experts drawn from the Internet technical community in Africa and around the world, the Internet Society was able to deliver 60 workshops for 30 countries. The workshops demonstrated the impact of local exchange of Internet traffic between providers through IXPs. These trainings led to the establishment of 10 IXPs in Namibia, Burundi, Swaziland, Gambia, Gabon, Seychelles, Mauritius, Liberia, Mauritania and Madagascar.

“The impact of IXPs for the communities they serve are tremendous. They improve considerably the quality of Internet access by lowering latency to access local content and by increasing reliability since an outage of international connection will no more have an impact on local access. They also help push down prices by avoiding unnecessary international traffic to access local content” said Dawit Bekele, Regional Bureau Director for Africa, Internet Society.

At the start of 2010 about 11 countries had a submarine cable landing station and have increased to two or three over the years. The continued growth in the number and capacity of submarine cables connecting Africa to other regions has therefore helped to support the increase and usage of IXPs for local traffic exchange and access to content. The presence of these IXPs on the continent has on its own given impetus to the availability of good quality internet and saved Internet Service Providers costs associated with high connectivity fees.

Though IXPs take time to grow the traffic, it is projected that the ten countries are making considerable savings through local exchange, which can result in lower connectivity costs.

“The annual AfPIF Forum and AXIS are complementary activities that have positively impacted the peering ecosystem in Africa. Through the collaboration of the two we have seen the establishment of national IXPs in virtually every African country that didn’t have an IXP at the start of the project. There are now 36 IXPs covering 50% of African countries which is a significant growth compared to 2008 when they covered less than 25%” Said Bekele.

The Best Practices workshops conducted under the AXIS project trained more than 750 people from 30 African countries (Burkina Faso, Senegal, Burundi, the Gambia, Namibia, Guinea, Niger, Benin, Swaziland, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Cameroon, Seychelles, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Liberia, Chad, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome, Comoros, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic)

Given Africa’s infrastructure challenges, the best practice workshops served to demonstrate that even though most of the traffic was routed internationally, it was possible for ISPs and content providers to make savings by exchanging the content locally.

“With the goal of creating a consensus between the main actors on the need to establish an IXP, all workshops have reached their intended target audience and brought enhanced knowledge on the value and benefits of connecting to a local exchange point,” added Bekele.

Even though only ten countries have set up IXPs thus far, it is worth noting that, all countries where the Best Practices workshops have taken place were able to reach an agreement to create a local taskforce to champion the establishment and management of a local IXP. As such, we anticipate that more countries will setup their respective IXPs in the days ahead.