MWEB’s transit cuts ‘a storm in a teacup’: MTN Business

MWEB severed their local transit over SAIX yesterday, essentially cutting off local connectivity to most service providers which do not peer with them directly, such as MTN and Vodacom.

This development meant that websites and online services hosted on MTN and Vodacom’s networks were inaccessible to MWEB subscribers for a while yesterday afternoon. 

This problem, said MTN Business’ Edwin Thompson, was likely because of an error in MWEB’s routing announcements.  “It is concerning for us that this level of change is done in the peak of a business day.”

All problems seems to have been solved and traffic between MWEB, MTN and Vodacom is currently re-routed internationally which means that all service providers can ‘see’ each other again.

MWEB previously explained that this decision will hopefully encourage all local telecoms players to embrace free and open peering, which in turn will increase competition, drive down prices and increase service levels.

MWEB ISP CEO Derek Hershaw said that old school telcos and ISPs need to move away from unnecessary profiteering at the expense of the SA consumer – networks should be open.

“We will hopefully establish a principle where all ISPs peer on an open basis using the “hot potato” principle – i.e. where you hand the traffic over at the closest point to where it is hosted,” said Hershaw.

MTN Business not convinced

One of the companies often mentioned as being particularly stubborn when it comes to free peering is MTN Business. It seems unlikely that the company will change its policy on peering soon.

Edwin Thompson, MTN Business’ General Manager of Infrastructure and Technology, says that free peering should only take place when there is an equal amount of traffic from the two parties flowing over the peering link and that it is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Thompson further highlighted that equitable peering typically requires peering in different locations nationally to avoid the one provider acting as a ‘free national transit’ provider of the other provider without PoPs in multiple locations country-wide.

According to Thompson this is standard practice internationally to ensure that one provider does not subsidize transit of another provider. 

“It is somewhat ironic that MWEB’s own peering agreement requires a mutually beneficial situation – hence balanced traffic – which is not the same as open peering which they are punting,” said Thompson.

Thompson further pointed out that free and open peering typically does not come with any service guarantees, a model which may not suit all parties.

MWEB and MTN Business

Thompson said that MWEB’s decision to terminate some of its transit routes is not as big a deal as MWEB has made out. 

MWEB has traditionally had transit relationships with operators other than MTN Business – like Telkom/SAIX and Internet Solutions – to connect with the MTN Business network.

The recent termination of MWEB’s local connection to MTN Business will therefore merely mean that an alternative route will be found to share traffic between these two networks, said Thompson.

Thompson explained that while latency may be higher in the event of internationally routed traffic, the overall user experience will not change significantly as they have adequate international capacity to support any additional traffic.

Thompson further highlighted that MWEB may inadvertently hurt their own subscribers who may now experience high latency and put strain on MWEB’s international capacity.

Will look at peering

MWEB has been voicing their willingness to peer with other ISPs, but Thompson said that MWEB has not been as pro-active as they could have been.

“M-Web did not inform us prior to making the changes, they have approached us for peering but have not been able to provide statistics on traffic requested.  This they claimed was due to a lot of their content still being hosted on other backbones,” said Thompson.

According to Thompson, the information he has suggests that any traffic sharing between MTN Business and MWEB will be very skewed, which means that it will not be mutually beneficial to both parties to peer.

Thompson however added that if MWEB boosts the content on their network – which in turn would result in more equitable traffic flow – they will definitely look at free peering between the two ISPs.

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MWEB’s transit cuts ‘a storm in a teacup’: MTN Business