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African network latency and redundancy continue to improve

April 14, 2013  »  BroadbandNo Comment

Slow network? Improve latency. Network outage? Improve redundancy.

These two technical concepts have been guiding recent network deployments in Africa. Only a couple of years ago the goal was sheer broadband capacity. Now, it has become paramount to optimize bandwidth.

The need for redundancy was highlighted in March when a chunk of the SEACOM cable (Europe-Egypt link that also provides East African bandwidth) was cut. Many African Internet users experienced slow Internet service for up to 8 days. However, network operators plan for such a situation and the examples came out during the SEACOM outage:

  • Even if a SEACOM undersea cable route goes offline, East Africans will still have fast Internet. In fact, Kenyans now have the lowest latency ever to Southern Africa. According to Liquid Telecom, “traffic from various East African operations is now accessible via [Southern Africa] at low latency (down from over 400ms to around 50ms) and at high speed.”
  • Tanzania’s national fibre backbone has earned praise after acting as a redundant network during the recent SEACOM cable outage.

Internet Exchange Points that route traffic locally greatly reduce data latency. They’re an integral part of modern African network infrastructure and also happen to be in the news this month:

  • JINX (Johannesburg Internet Exchange) is tied to reduced latency between Kenya and South Africa.
  • A draft Internet Exchange Point report is guiding the creation of an IXP in The Gambia. IXPs are cost-saving for most ISPs by eliminating the need to exchange the traffic through expensive international links. An IXP also improves network quality due to the reduction in latency and larger bandwidth available as a result of the lower cost of local capacity.
  • The Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) is collaborating with the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA), managers of Nigeria’s ccTLD, to organize a local Internet content forum.
  • An IXP is to go live in Guinea within the month of April.

Perhaps Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Renesys says it best:

Maintaining a presence at an Internet exchange maximizes your options for re-establishing high-performance route diversity during a submarine cable outage event.”

Expect more IXPs to appear this year as the African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) project continues and as terrestrial fibre continues to provide greater support during network downtime.