/‘India is a periphery of the world’s Internet ecosystem’

‘India is a periphery of the world’s Internet ecosystem’

Raunak Maheshwari

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown led to a massive surge in the use of the internet across India,” says Raunak Maheshwari.

Extreme IX, the internet exchange point for Indian ISP’s, has been growing at a fast pace. Having acquired its first customer in Delhi in 2016 and 25 customers in 2017, the company continues to grow fast. About 250 of India’s leading ISPs are connected to Extreme IX which is soon to come up in metro cities like Bangalore, Pune, and many other Tier II and Tier III cities as well. The team behind Extreme IX has already played a significant role in enabling Peering in India by educating ISPs and helping them with technology. It aims to further help the ISP ecosystem by boosting local traffic exchange and help them achieve a 1/10 ratio of Transit vs. Peering traffic.

To know more about the company, our correspondent Vivek Singh Chauhan spoke to Raunak Maheshwari, Executive Director, Extreme Labs. Raunak has been the driving force behind the Extreme IX rise in India, from zero to being the biggest IX in India within a matter of 2-3 years. With Raunak’s immaculate work ethics and leadership quality, Extreme IX continues to grow fast.

How long has Extreme IX been in India? Please elaborate on how internet exchange points work?

Extreme IX has been helping ISPs in India since 2009. Extreme was started by three Bulgarian technocrats who were architects of changing Bulgarian Internet ecosystem and bringing it to the top of the world. They brought their technology and experience of operating ISPs to India. In 2016 Indian Internet ecosystem reached a stage where the requirement of an Internet Exchange to grow further became eminent. That’s when Extreme Labs decided to start Internet Exchange in India.

Internet Exchange is a neutral facility where networks like content providers, CDNs, hosting providers, banks, various online service providers, cloud providers, ISPs etc can connect to each other directly without requirement of an intermediary telco. This saves costs for the participant networks and improves performance.

How ISP’s ensured the peaking surge in data during COVID 19 lockdown?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown led to a massive surge in the use of the internet across India. Lockdowns, social distancing and the new normal of the restricted workforce have pushed users to explore new scenarios to maintain life and business continuity.

There has been an exponential surge in Internet consumption as most of the country working from home or staying at home during the pandemic. From an increase in video and gaming usage for entertainment at home to growth in connectivity tools like video conferencing services for business use, ISPs have witnessed data consumption peak to as high as 60 per cent-70 per cent of pre lockdown levels.

Initially, there were hiccups, as the existing network infrastructure developers had never witnessed such an unprecedented demand. The lockdown was sudden and hit ISPs unprepared for the surge. The current network infrastructure of legacy telcos and mobile internet providers is not optimally built to manage such high demands on a consistent basis. Mobile Internet was unable to handle high data rates for many concurrent users as parallel connections and use of video peaked. Data Limits overran, Wi-Fi slowed down, users were left without internet connectivity as we saw, never seen before, big spikes of data consumption.

This is where the more economical and effective upstream capabilities of an Internet Exchange (IX), helped many local Cable broadband providers to manage the surge in data demand. With Internet Exchanges maintaining data speeds to subscribers for all peered content, millions of Indians in lockdown got to work, entertained and learnt new skills.

A lot of private cable broadband companies with decent access networks to connect their end-users were able to withstand the surge. Their last-mile capacities are good enough to handle the surge of data that we witnessed. Most ISPs on FTTH were able to transmit the sudden and high demand for data. Most of them offer 100 Mbps capacity over their optical networks that can handle higher and increased video bitrates, as witnessed during the lockdown.

How much of the Indian internet’s traffic do you think goes through your exchange?

India is a periphery of the world’s internet ecosystem. We are consumers — the download traffic is much more than what we are able to upload. My calculations with respect to the traffic across the content providers are that India uses about 25Tbps of incoming traffic from the world. So out of that, if you calculate the percentage, 800Gbps is what travels through Extreme IX, around 3 per cent.

Does the bulk of internet traffic in India go through exchanges?

The bulk of Internet traffic doesn’t go through exchanges owing to the existing internet ecosystem of the country. Our fixed broadband penetration is at most 8 per cent. Most of the fixed broadband is concentrated in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Nagpur, Coimbatore, etc. Remaining India has very low fixed broadband penetration which poses a challenge for IXPs to do traffic which is observed in other developed internet economies.

What are some of the inefficiencies that still prevail in running the Internet? How can the network of networks concept help the cause of efficiently running the internet?

Countries with well-developed Internet access like Japan, South Korea, the US, almost all of Europe, some countries in Latin America show us that wireline and mobile Internet are both equally important parts of the ecosystem. In India, only about 8 per cent of houses are connected by wireline broadband. This is far behind what is required for seamless ubiquitous internet access. India needs industry and Government to work together to resolve this situation to meet the connectivity requirements of this nation of a huge young population of fewer than 35 years of age.

One of the reasons why fixed broadband did not take off in India is due to the lack of an online services ecosystem in India. Although these picked up in the last decade, rising daily data limits on mobile Internet did not allow fixed broadband to flourish. The ongoing pandemic has finally increased the demand for wireline broadband.

However, while the demand has increased, it is necessary to address problems in other parts of the ecosystem. First and foremost, the last mile other than coaxial cable in rural, semi-rural and small towns is non-existent. In tier 2 towns, capitals and metros, only a small percentage of the last mile is geared for high capacity. Wireline providers need to invest heavily in FTTH to remove bottlenecks in their access networks. Telecom companies need to invest in increasing capacities to meet the connectivity demands of wireline broadband.

There is a huge requirement for neutral and critical infrastructure like data centres, Internet exchanges etc. Internet Exchange is a neutral facility connecting ISPs, content providers, hosting service providers and all online service providers. They have a very important role to play in democratising access to content for ISPs of all sizes. Since they provide the cheapest path, networks ensure that their configuration gives priority to traffic to and fro Internet Exchange. Even though NIXI started way back in 2003, its policies and structure did not allow it to grow and enable wireline broadband. Until recently, its participants were still charged for the difference in data download and upload apart from port charges and non ISPs were not allowed to participate.

How do you tackle the competition? Any strategies?

Neutral facilities like DCs and IXs are solutions to the larger problem of bringing content closer to the end-user. The task is to grow and build the ecosystem.

Extreme has been working with ISPs in India since 2009. It is well aware of the problems faced by ISPs. Extreme was the first IX to be available at multiple DCs in a city. This makes it easier for ISPs to connect to IX at the point of their choice where they find it most easy to connect. Extreme IX is also present in multiple cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata. Local ISPs of these areas can connect to the local exchange and need not connect to faraway peering locations. This encourages content providers also to penetrate deeper where there is a strong IX as it gets ISPs aggregated at one or two locations.

Anything interesting that came up after this pandemic you’d like to share?

There is a surge in traffic, and it wasn’t expected to be this high. While there has been a lot of talk about Work from Home, we have seen video consumption go up by 20-30 per cent during the lockdown, more than any other app or service.

Vivek writes on Technology and Innovation. Currently, the tech correspondent with MY MOBILE holds the distinction to have covered various national and international TECH SUMMITS. He was previously associated with IANS (Indo-Asian News Service) and holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. Apart from writing, he is an avid traveller and does not share food!

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