The Impact of Geography and Politics on Internet Operations

May 30, 2013 | 23:14
The Impact of Geography and Politics on Internet Operations
The Impact of Geography and Politics on Internet Operations
Representatives of Internet Exchange Points from around the globe discussed the regional differences of the physical layer of the Internet. For example, government regulations in Kenya stifle internet growth and the physical remoteness of the Caribbean to the nearest hub makes connectivity expensive. The panel discussion took place at the annual MORE-IP event hosted by the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX).

AMS-IX is one of the largest internet exchange points in the world with 591 connected networks and traffic peaking at 2.1 Tb/s. An IX is a location where networks can physically connect to exchange traffic. Peering, the agreement between two networks to exchange traffic, is often done without money changing hands because the benefits are mutual. It reduces latency and brings down costs by cutting out a third party transit provider. Plus, the increased number of connections makes the peering networks as well as the internet in its entirety more resilient.

In those regions where the internet is just arriving the number of network connections is often low making traffic exchange slow and expensive. That’s why several years ago the AMS-IX Association decided to direct its expertise toward establishing IXs in different parts of the world in collaboration with local organizations.

At MORE-IP 2013 Cliff Tam from Hong Kong, Fiona Asonga from Kenya and  Nico Scheper from Curacao discussed the regional differences of the internet market and the importance of setting up internet exchange points in a panel discussion chaired by AMS-IX CTO Henk Steenman.


Nico Scheper is responsible for business development for AMS-IX Caribbean, formerly known as CAR-IX, which went live in 2009. He talked about infrastructural difficulties specific to his region. ‘One important difference between the markets in Europe and the Caribbean is that we are about 25 islands scattered throughout the Caribbean sea. It gives us beautiful beaches and nice rum but it also means we are about  2000 km away from the content, which is basically all hosted in Miami, USA. So each and every time we want to watch a Youtube movie we have to go through very expensive submarine cables and bring that movie down. That goes for each and every user. About four years ago when we started the IX we were still paying about $500 per megabit to get content down from Miami. Today, we pay $35 per meg which is still a lot more expensive than in most European countries. I think in Amsterdam you pay €1 per meg.’

Establishing an IX eases the geographical disadvantage: regional traffic no longer needs to be routed via Miami. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can jointly lease bandwidth to reduce cost and popular international content can be cached at the IX to make it available locally.


Cliff Tam is Vice President at Hutchison Global Communications (HGC). HGC and AMS-IX founded  AMS-IX Hong Kong in 2012. Steenman asked him about the particularities of the Asian market. Tam: ‘In Asia people look at peering is quite differently than in Europe. In some countries like the Philippines companies can have their offices right next to each other but they would never agree to peer. In many cases, organizations come to Hong Kong to peer with each other instead of doing it in their own country, even though it means they have to pay transit costs. In some countries it is the result of policy, the regulator does not encouraging them to peer locally, or the cable system is managed by an incumbent making it difficult to peer. So it is not easy for them to peer locally and as long as they can get out of the country and peer elsewhere they are already very happy. Currently there are three different hubs in Asia: Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

‘The reason we started AMS-IX Hong Kong is that the region hardly has any well-established IXs. At the same time you see the internet bandwidth is growing in most of the Asian countries. Most of them have double digit or even triple digit growth every year. We believe that the absence of a well-established exchange in the region will hinder connectivity in Asia.

‘We did some traffic analyses. Five years ago the amount of local traffic was low. Over 60% of the traffic was from the US or the EU coming into China. But nowadays around 50% of the content is local. If we don’t have a well-function exchange point all that traffic needs to be exchanged far away from our own region.’


Fiona Asonga is Chief Executive Officer at TESPOK an advocacy group and trade association representing the interests of ISPs in Kenya. TESPOK has been involved in setting up the Mombasa Exchange Point (MSIXP) which launched in 2009. When asked what is typical about the African internet landscape Asonga answered: ‘There have been concerns about governments wanting to exercise some level of control over pretty much everything. There exist regulated IXs in Africa and there are countries who are still considering to regulate their IXs. And that will have repercussions on whether the IX will grow. Private sector IXs which have basically no government involvement tend to grow faster, tend to  be more sustainable and better organized.  These are the exchange points most likely to be successful.’

After MSIXP was launched TESPOK entered a collaboration relationship with AMS-IX. ‘We were beginning to see that Kenya is a really strategic location for a regional exchange point’, said Asonga. ‘We were getting requests from operators from Egypt, Zambia, Mozambique who wanted to peer. However at that time the challenge was that as a non-Kenyan entity the regulator would not allow you to peer unless you’d get a license. Also operators were allowed to come in until Mombasa but they weren’t allowed to bring traffic inland. So a discussion began.

‘We looked at other IXs as case studies and that’s what got us working with AMS-IX. We have taken the time to educate the regulator on the importance of the traffic coming in and the added value of bringing traffic from other regions as close to the users as possible. And I think we are finally getting there.'

Image source: Chris Harrison
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