Who peers for free and who doesn’t

A telecoms industry executive has revealed that while most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in South Africa support free and open peering, Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Internet Solutions are still not willing to engage in settlement free peering with all ISPs.

Peering is the business relationship whereby ISPs reciprocally facilitate the flow of data between their customers. Open peering is the free exchange of internet traffic between two ISPs.

The issue of free and open peering has made headlines for years, with many ISPs highlighting that it improves service levels and drives down costs.

“Open peering is a very important part of creating an affordable, efficient internet market in South Africa. It will give users a better internet experience and break the stranglehold that a few large players currently exert over the rest of the market,” said former MWEB CEO Rudi Jansen.

Telkom, Vodacom explains peering policy

Despite the advantages of free and open peering, South Africa’s largest telecoms players (with the exception of Neotel) are not keen on settlement free peering with all ISPs.

Telkom explained that peering has always been a commercial arrangement between two Internet Access Providers that both have an AS (Autonomous System) with roughly equivalent traffic flows between them.

“Telkom considers all peering requests against criteria that Telkom reviews from time to time as circumstances change,” the company said.

However, Telkom said that the decision to peer or not to peer always remains a business decision, particularly when one is talking about settlement free peering.

“Peering on the basis of traffic flows that are not roughly equivalent can never be for free simply due to the fact that infrastructure and network build involves costs that need to be financed and recovered through a sensible commercial model,” said Telkom.

Telkom further remains one of the only large service providers without a presence at the Johannesburg Internet Exchange (JINX) and the Cape Town Internet Exchange (CINX).

Telkom explained that a decision to peer or not to peer at a public peering point such as JINX and CINX (or Teraco) remains a commercial decision.

“Operators that peer at a public peering point, often lose the ability to implement transit offerings at commercial rates to recover network build costs,” Telkom said.

Vodacom said that they are “very much open to free peering agreements but they need to be mutually beneficial  and in line with Vodacom’s peering guidelines”.

Internet Solutions explains

Prenesh Padayachee
Prenesh Padayachee

Internet Solutions’ CTO, Prenesh Padayachee, explained that the company has numerous peering partnerships in place, and many of these are free.

“The interactions between Internet networks fall into three distinctive categories: transit, peer and client. Peering is an agreement that is by definition mutually beneficial to both networks,” explained Padayachee.

“Internet Solutions does not charge its partners in a pure peering relationship, which implies that both parties gain equal benefit from each other. In order to qualify as a peering partner, certain prerequisites must be met.”

Padayachee explained that should a partner wish to peer, but does not meet with the requirements that would bring symbiosis to the relationship, there is an option of “paid peering”, where the lack is offset by a predetermined fee.

“It is in any ISP’s best interest to peer with as many networks as possible as this reduces cost; provided the other network can indeed offer mutual benefit,” said Padayachee.

“Regarding transit agreements, Internet Solutions purchases transit from an upstream provider, for example NTT. Client relationships are the reverse, whereby, for example, IS could be seen as another network’s upstream provider. In this instance, IS sells access to a client.”

MTN mum on the issue

MTN was asked why they do not support free and open peering, but the operator did not respond by the time of publication.

The following table provides an overview of the prominent service providers in South Africa which support free and open peering, and the ones which do not.

Free and open peering support in South Africa
Supports free and open peering Do not support free and open peering
MWEB Telkom
Neotel Vodacom
WBS (iBurst) MTN
Google Internet Solutions
Cell C
Nashua Mobile
Vox Telecom (DataPro)
Web Africa
Liquid Telecom
Africa INX

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Who peers for free and who doesn’t