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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NIXP, a plus for Nigeria

Features of the week:

SIX months after the end of the two phased World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-05), Nigeria seems to be on the right track in implementing the Tunis outline with the setting up of the Nigeria Internet Exchange Point (NIXP), writes REMMY NWEKE.

PREAMBLE

On November 17 at the last phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-05) in Tunisia, when President Olusegun Obasanjo declared his administration’s interest in the development of the nation’s Internet Exchange Point (IXP), most industry analysts took it for another political rhetoric.

Still he immediately directed that a meeting be held with the members of his delegation comprising the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Prof. Cleopas Officer Angaye, and relevant organizations at the summit to facilitate this quest as soon as possible.

President Obasanjo who was in Tunis for the world summit gave the directive after a session on Internet Exchange Point and infrastructural development.

As said then by Dr. Ndukwe, after a session on Global Symposium for Regulators during the WSIS-05, his office would endeavour to meet with the presidential directive, and despite that he did not give a definite date when this would take off, EVC on return took relevant steps for a successful take-off of the IXP, saying that it would improve Internet adoption and usability in the country, just as it would reduce the cost of access to the common people.

Although Nigeria has observed various evolutions in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in last five years, yet the nation has one known IXP, the Ibadan exchange, which has been up for over a year but suffered lack of patronage from members of the Internet Service Providers Association of Nigeria (ISPAN).

However, President Obasanjo’s motives were not far from aligning itself with the agreed clause in Article 50b of WSIS on “Tunis Agenda,” which identified IXP as a key to cheap internet penetration and called for the strategic development of IXP to ensure affordable global connectivity and improve equitable access for all citizens.

What is IXP

Internet Exchange Point (IXP) is defined as a physical network infrastructure operated by a single entity whose purpose is to facilitate the exchange of Internet traffic between ISPs, which entails a minimum of three ISPs to be connected to each other.

Noteworthy is that at present, local internet traffic is exchanged outside the country, often across several hops with the associated high cost of service delivery which limits internet penetration and local-content distribution, along with security risks, and the potential increase in congestion of international access circuits which could negatively affect Quality of Service (QoS).

Hops on the other hand is one file transmission in a series required to get a file from point A to point B on a store-and-forward network; an important inter-machine metric is the number of hops in the shortest path between them, which could be more significant than their geographical separation.

Nigerian IXP

And on April 14, this year, NCC board approved a proposal to fund the setting-up of a Nigerian Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in the country, on behalf of the federal government, in collaboration with ISPAN to achieve this objective, of which it would operate on a not-for-profit platform.

The main objective of having a Nigerian IXP (NIXP) is to keep and interchange local Nigerian internet traffic such as electronic mail (e-mail), download of local website content, file transfers via File Transfer Protocol (FTP) among others, within the country and allow only international traffic to be exchanged at off-shore points.

NIXP, an outcome of the NCC organised consultative meeting on February 28 this year with the key industry stakeholders at its Abuja office, culminated in setting up of an industry cum implementation committee to further discuss and chart a way forward for the rapid establishment of the IXP in the country.

Members of the committee consist of the chief executive of Amsco Telecoms and Vice President of ISPAN, Mr. Ndukwe Kalu, who was also appointed the Committee Chairman. Others to serve with him are chief executive, Medallion Communications Limited, Mr. Ike Nnamani, Chief Business Development Officer at Interconnect Clearing House Nigeria Limited, Mr. Tosin Oni, Head, Content Department, Emperion West Africa, Mr. Femi Adalemo, Deputy General Manager (DGM) Internet Services at the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), Mr. Olayinka T. Abiodun, Assistant Director, Licensing, NCC, Mr. Abubakar Yakubu, and Deputy Manager, Technical Research and Standards NCC, Mr. Chris Agha.

Equally the IXPs would be built in phases beginning with seven (7) branches to be located in Lagos, with main-branch at NECOM House, and additional two sites at Ikeja and Victoria Island. Other branches would be located at Ibadan, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Abuja, Kano and Maiduguri, covering the six geo-political zones of the nation; after which further sites could be built as may be required.

As said by the Head, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Dave Imoko, lately, all sites would be linked using high capacity Internet Protocol (IP) backbone of over 100 Mega bites (Mbs), just as the commission has also approved the appointment of Digitek TeeVee Engineering Co. Limited, to manage the implementation of the first phase of the IXP project in Lagos.

NIXA

NIXP to be managed by the Nigeria Internet Exchange Association (NIXA) according to the implementation committee chairman, would operate as a non-profit, cost recovery and neutral facility model.

Mr. Kalu, also said that NIXA would be based on three-layer organizational structure, comprising board of trustees, board of directors and management, as promised it would be run in accordance with the nation’s statutes for a company limited by guarantee as its activities would be steered by men and women of integrity.

Speaking at the just ended one-day IXPs’ stakeholders meeting in Lagos, Mr. Kalu noted that NIXP though would have a management and a total of three employees at this initial stage, consisting of the chief executive officer, sales and marketing manager and the finance manager, whose recruitment have reached an advanced stage, to ensure smooth operations.

He emphasized that relevant documentations have been developed in conjunction with a law firm, Ekpe Iko & Co. These include constitution, memorandum of understanding, mandatory multilateral peering agreement, connection form, associate member agreement, associate member connection form, joining procedure, appeal procedure dispute resolution, partnership programme, fee schedule, services definition and membership form.

ISPAN Commitment: Responding to questions on the NIXP, President of ISPAN and chief executive of Steineng Limited, Mr. Sam Adeleke, said that already, about seven (7) members of the association have really committed themselves to this project. He assured that there are two medium to be deployed at each of the IXP branches that is wireless and fibre links, as he also counseled members to support the project, noting that those who have problems with trusting others are those who have something to hide.

Conclusion

The steps taken so far depicts the kind of seriousness the present day government attaches to ICT and Internet evolution to be precise, thus the efforts must not be allowed to fail, given the PPP between NCC on behalf of the government and ISPAN representing the private sector.

This kind of partnership is what stakeholders have been yelling for over the years and now that it is here together with the kind of support the government is ready to offer, ISPAN membership on the other hand, must ensure that the efforts are optimized for local content to thrive as noted by the President, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, in a recent chat with correspondent. Hence, it would lead to reduction of cost of bandwidth and then, “the Internet exchange would thrive”.

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