South Africa’s impressive Internet infrastructure – NAPAfrica vs INX-ZA

South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent with two Internet exchange providers.

Internet exchanges are services hosted inside data centres which allow networks to interconnect.

Through an exchange, Internet service providers can connect their subscriber to the networks of online services such as Netflix, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

The two major exchanges in South Africa are INX-ZA and NAPAfrica, which provide neutral places for service providers and other network operators to exchange traffic.

INX-ZA exchange point manager Nishal Goburdhan said that there is no competition between them, however, as the two services are fundamentally different.

Teraco makes NAPAfrica’s services available at no cost to its data centre customers, while INX-ZA is community-run, and its pricing is determined by South Africa’s community of Internet service providers.

Teraco is also among the data centre providers that INX-ZA uses as a home for its Internet exchange facilities. Its other data centre partners are Internet Solutions, Hetzner, and Liquid Telecom.

Goburdhan explained that until 2012, the Internet exchange points that would become INX-ZA were entirely volunteer-run.

The Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa (ISPA) launched the first of its exchanges, the Johannesburg Internet Exchange (JINX), in December 1996.

ISPA added an exchange point in Cape Town during September 2009 (CINX), and one in Durban (DINX) three years later.

ISPA then decided it was going make its exchanges multisite and appoint full-time staff to manage the project.

INX-ZA is now an independent division of ISPA and by 2017 JINX, CINX, and DINX had become multi-site Internet exchange points.

South Africa was the first country in Africa where you could get access to two exchanges, and remains one of only a few to have such diversity.

“This is fantastic for people who want extra resiliency,” said Goburdhan.

Bringing Netflix and CloudFlare to South Africa

Teraco’s launch of NAPAfrica has also been a tremendous boon for the Internet landscape in South Africa.

NAPAfrica’s focus has been to bring content from around the world and make it available locally, and it maintains a list of which networks are peering through its exchanges on its website.

With bandwidth-heavy services like Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook essentially available for free for Internet service providers that peer at NAPAfrica, costs have subsequently plummeted.

“Previously, content was sitting in Europe and there was an inherent cost to be able to reach it,” said NAPAfrica head of interconnection and peering, Michele McCann.

“They would have to pay for subsea cable capacity and colocation fees in data centres in Europe to be able to access that content from there and then bring it back.”

Internet service providers corroborate NAPAfrica’s statements, and international content in Teraco’s data centres has effectively made bandwidth free in South Africa.

Service providers only need to recover their capital costs, such as their fibre links to peering points.

RocketNet, a fibre-only ISP operated by Directel, told MyBroadband that around 80% of their total traffic is “free” – locally peered traffic through NAPAfrica.

Now read: How 100Mbps uncapped fibre became cheap in South Africa

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South Africa’s impressive Internet infrastructure – NAPAfrica vs INX-ZA