Mr. Muhammed Rudman is the CEO of Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN). In this interview with Daily Sun’s Tech and Gadgets, Rudman spoke extensively on issues in ICT and the IXPN. Excerpts:

Role of IXPN in ICT

The role of IXPN is to physically interconnect all Internet service providers, telecommunication companies, higher educational institutions and all IP-centric organisations, to enable the exchange of local Internet traffic within Nigeria without allowing it leave the shores of the country.

ISPs and telecos not connecting to IXPN in its early days

ISPs and telco’s were not willing to connect to IXPN in the early days. At the initial stage, most of the Internet service providers were not aware of the advantages of the exchange point and in the absence of content providers connected to the exchange as of then, there were no incentives for the service providers to connect. 

Almost all the service providers in Nigeria fall into the category of eye-ball networks. The eye-ball networks, comprising people browsing the Internet, get access to information that is residing in content networks, which were not available in Nigeria, making it less attractive for them to connect to the IXPN. 

Over the years, we had the content providers such as Google connecting to Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria, leading to most of the service providers connecting, knowing that they would get the benefits or the services of Google when they connect. After Google, many other content providers came on board and traffic has significantly increased since then, with all the major service providers now connected to the IXPN.

Benefits of connecting to the exchange point

We have different levels of benefits. We have the benefits that are directly related to the service providers and those indirectly related. Cost reduction is a direct benefit to the ISP connected; for an ISP not connected to the exchange, the traffic it is generating first goes international before returning to the country for local use. By connecting to IXPN, the traffic would be local and dropped locally, cutting down the cost for the ISPs significantly.

The aggregate cost per MBPS for Internet access at the exchange point is much cheaper than the cost for it internationally, hence the benefit being cost reduction. Another direct benefit is reduction in latency, which means that the speed with which browsers reach the sites that are local would be much faster. Ultimately, it improves end user experience. 

The exchange point also promotes hosting of websites locally. You know that most people buy the “.ng” domains but those domains are not necessarily hosted in Nigeria. Those domains are owned mostly by Nigerian businesses whose target audience or at least 70 per cent of them are supposed to be local. But because they are hosting the domains outside Nigeria, it is more expensive for locals browsing the sites as the sites take longer to download. But, if a site is hosted locally, it becomes faster and cheaper. 

In summary, direct benefits of connecting to IXPN include cost reduction, reduced latency, which improves user experience and attracts hosting locally. 

The hosting that it attracts into the country now provides businesses for Data Centers, providing hosting services. And if data centers have more business, it means more taxes for government, more opportunities for Nigerians to get employed and build technical skills.

Awareness on functions of the exchange

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Yes, we have done some awareness campaign. But, as you know, the IXPN target is not the public. We know who our potential customers are and that’s why we don’t really go for publicity because our target is not the end users. The targets are ISPs, telcos and higher institutions. 

Cost of Internet

The cost of Internet keeps dropping, and IXPN contributes significantly towards that, but the end users are not yet seeing the impact or benefitting from the drop in cost. Why? This is because bandwidth cost is not the only contributor to the cost of Internet to end user; ISPs and telco have huge operational costs. A substantial part of their operational cost goes to the collocation space; they have to lease mast to build their sites, they pay rent for their offices, pay for electricity, pay salaries, pay taxes, etcetera. All these contribute 70 to 80 per cent of their cost with bandwidth costing only about 10 to 15 per cent. 

So, if the cost of Internet access keeps dropping for them but operational cost remains the way it is, then they can’t really drop the cost to their customers. What needs to be done is that government should come up with right policies and incentives to ensure that these service providers survive. If you notice, some years back, in Nigeria, we had a lot of ISPs but most of them have gone extinct now due to high operational costs, government taxes and so on. I think government needs to find a way to address this issue.

Do we have local content?

Yes, we have local content but it can be categorised into three different categories. We have local content that is meant for local consumption but created by foreign organisations. For instance, if you are using Google Maps, it is a foreign content but made for local consumption. The second one is the local content that is generated locally. For instance, all movies that we have in Nollywood, music industry are generated locally for local consumption. Websites developed by different individuals and universities, those are all local content, but they are hosted internationally. The information is a local one but is not hosted locally but in foreign servers. While the third category, we have local Internet content that is developed locally and hosted locally, and this is the real local content. An instance is a local company in Nigeria with its information physically hosted here. In terms of this, the ones we have are not much. So, what we are trying to do is to get these types of local content migrated back to the country, so that we can access them locally.

Implications of hosting local websites internationally

The implications of hosting local websites abroad are numerous. One, you pay in US dollars and that is capital flight. It puts more strain on the limited foreign currency that we have now. Also, If the content is hosted locally, it will be in local data centres and this means more businesses for the data centres, more job opportunities in the country and improvement in local technical competence. The third one is that we pay so much accessing sites hosted internationally because they are located thousands of miles away, but if sites are hosted locally, we are not going to pay as much for Internet access. The fourth implication is that it affects business continuity. Even if there are problems with the submarine cables, we will not be cut off but would be able to communicate with ourselves if contents are hosted locally.

Why is Nigeria ranked low in use of IP address?

Nigeria is number one in Africa in terms of number of people browsing the Internet but in terms of IP resources utilized, we are ranking very low. IP addresses are the numbers that are being used by devices on the Internet. 

Some countries like Kenya, Egypt, South Africa are ahead of Nigeria in utilizing IP resources. Why? Because most of the Nigerian Service Providers are running what is called Network Address Translation (NAT). By using NAT, they translate one Public IP address to thousands of private IP addresses. By doing this, they only use small amount of IP addresses and thereforedo not require much public IP addresses. This is not good for the Internet because there are some critical services running on the internet that are supposed to have real-time communication and NAT breaks that. 

In terms of security, you hear NCC talking about call-masking, where an international call comes in while what you see is a local number, which you cannot call back. This is also the same thing with NAT, it translates public IP addresses to private IP addresses, allowing thousands of people browse with just one public IP address, in a way masking the IP address as well. 

Migration from IPv4 to IPv6

The total range of IPv4 addresses is around 4.3 billion while the global population is about 7 billion people and still growing, many people having so many devices such as phones, computers, etc, and the emerging Internet of Things. It was realized that IPv4 would not help the growth of the Internet, hence a new IP version six (IPv6) was created, with huge number range that will allow every single device in the world connect without having any issues. The migration is meant to be hand in hand where you are running it in parallel, that is, you have IPv4 and IPv6 together in the same network. So that eventually, the IPv4 will be phased out and IPv6 will take over. We have been advocating for that migration to take place, so that Nigerian networks would not be left behind when it comes to IPv6 when the rest of the world has fully migrated. For, most of the Nigerian networks have not yet started implementing it.