How South Africa’s Internet traffic changed — from 2014 to 2021

Internet traffic in South Africa has increased rapidly over the last few years, with the country’s biggest exchange now closing in on a peering throughput of 2Tbps.

This is according to feedback from data centre company Teraco, which operates NAPAfrica, Africa’s largest Internet Exchange Point (IXP).

An IXP is a set of physical infrastructure including routing and switching equipment which allows enterprises, network operators, content delivery networks (CDNs), and cloud services providers to interconnect and exchange Internet traffic between themselves and others who are connected to the exchange.

NAPAfrica’s infrastructure is situated at three neutral colocation data centres in Cape, Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, where more than 490 companies now peer.

Launched in 2012, NAPAfrica’s early growth was due to a changing mindset towards settlement-free peering among carriers and ISPs, with the most notable change being with MWEB.

“Another growth spurt followed this as content providers steadily trickled to our shores — Google, Akamai, Cloudflare, Facebook, and more,” Teraco said.

The exchange has also seen a large increase in peering with key cloud content hosting from big companies such as Microsoft and Amazon.

“This has been a fantastic enabler for enterprise strategy,” Teraco said.

“The availability of great content and lower data costs for consumers meant that they, in turn, could afford to consume more content.”

Teraco NAPAfrica IXP

Teraco also shared details on what data traffic patterns through the exchange looked like on a typical day.

It said that peak traffic is generally recorded between 19:00 and 21:00 in the evening, while the lowest traffic is measured between 03:00 and 04:00 in the morning.

On the average day, traffic flow begins a steady climb from around 05:00 and peaks at about 20:30.

Over weekends, the pattern shifts forward slightly, starting later in the morning and ending later in the evening.

Teraco said the COVID-19 pandemic has created unusual global circumstances that affected Internet exchanges the world over.

In recent months, data traffic surged further with more people working and studying from home.

“It has been a period of significant growth across the globe and most notably in Africa,” Teraco stated.

“The elevated levels of traffic coursing through Internet exchange points clearly illustrate how IP traffic has grown across disparate geographies and cultures.”

It said that this growth reflected a confluence of evolving data-intensive applications, the work-from-home reality, and increased video services demand.

These drove greater levels of traffic between service providers, enterprises, regions, and individual consumers.

Teraco said NAPAfrica’s rapid growth over this period clearly illustrated the new reality.

It reached peering throughput of 1.7Tbps in May 2021, up from the 1.5Tbps in October 2020, and 1Tbps in March 2020.

This data traffic was significantly higher than in the early days of the exchange, such as in 2014, when peering throughput hit 6Gbps.

The increase was supported by more companies peering at NAPAfrica.

The table below shows how NAPAfrica’s peering members and throughput increased from 2014 to 2021.

NAPAfrica traffic
Number of members Peering throughput
2014 100 6Gbps
2016 200 100Gbps
2018 350 600Gbps
March 2020 430 1Tbps
October 2020 450 1.5Tbps
May 2021 490 1.7Tbps

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How South Africa’s Internet traffic changed — from 2014 to 2021