Independent research has shown that African Internet Service Providers (ISPs) loose over US$400 million every year paying for the peering of local traffic in international exchanges and international bandwidth providers. This was said by Brian Longwe, General Manager of AfrISPA, a membership organization of African ISPs, when conducting a joint technical workshop and a CEO briefing for Tanzania’s ISPs in Dar es Salaam, writes Harry Hare.

The workshop, organized by the Tanzania ISP Association (TISPA) and managed by AITEC Tanzania over 23-25 April, was meant to sensitise the Tanzanian ISP community on the benefits and technology behind Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). An IXP interconnects ISPs in a region or country, allowing them to exchange domestic Internet traffic locally without having to send that data across multiple international hops to reach its destination.

Twenty-two network engineers and administrators from nine ISPs attended the two-day technical training, while 20 CEOs and senior ISP managers attend the CEO briefing on 25 April. The technical training hosted at the University Computing Centre covered both theory and practical exercises on network management and interconnectivity at a local Internet exchange level.

Addressing the participants, Suhail Sheriff, the Vice-Chairman of TISPA, said Tanzania is yet to be part of the Internet and that Tanzanian ISPs are merely subscribers to international companies offering Internet services. "Fortunately, a group of ISPs have come together to from an association that will precisely address such issues and work to further the spirit of the Internet in Tanzania," Sheriff said.

"TISPA has embarked on setting up the Tanzania Internet Exchange (TIX), the basis of which is simple ­ to keep local information local. The exchange will connect ISPs and information destined for each other will be routed more directly through the TIX," Sheriff continued. By exchanging local traffic locally, ISPs are expected to reduce the significant network latency due to the multiple satellite hops and, therefore, improve the quality of service and reduce costs. The exchange will also "encourage more Tanzanian ownership of the Internet, increased productivity based on the use of the Internet and create a more efficient medium of getting and sharing useful information with fellow Tanzanians and the wider audience," he continued.

Currently ISPs have to send all outbound traffic through their international links, most commonly satellite and occasionally submarine fibre. Meaning an e-mail sent from one customer in office 102 belonging to ISP A to his colleague in office 103 but with ISP B, is routed through satellite hops and via at least two gateways and several exchange points before reaching its destination, less than 20 metres from origin.