Saturday, September 18, 2010

St Kitts - Ongoing discussion over the implementation of a national IXP with potential savings for end customers

[st kitts nevis observer] The question of whether St. Kitts and Nevis will take the initiative to establish a domestic Internet Exchange Point (IXP) is still up in the air, despite being brought to the fore during an August 27 symposium on the topic. The event was held in Frigate Bay, and hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).

An IXP is a telecommunications networking infrastructure that allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Internet Content Distributors to exchange Internet traffic between their networks, facilitating a faster, more efficient flow of online data.

Supporters of the initiative point to the many benefits that it would engender, including a reduction in local network operational costs; potentially significant improvements to the country’s network efficiency; and greater available download and upload speeds for local users, along with faster serving speeds for locally-hosted Web sites.

Currently, local Internet traffic is routed externally to IXPs in North America, where it is then sent back again before proceeding to its destination – a process that some consider extremely wasteful.

According to the Federation’s Director of Technology Wesley Wharton, the telecommunications infrastructure is already in place to go forward with the establishment of an IXP.

“St. Kitts has a very unique situation in that from a technical standpoint, we are probably more ready than any of the other territories to move forward,” he informed. “We happen to have located within the building at the ICT Centre all of the technical requirements to establish an IXP; we have fiber optic cable that comes in from The Cable company, we have fiber optic cable coming in from Cable & Wireless, and they meet in the same rack. It would simply mean introducing some pieces of hardware, where the exchange point is actually physically established. Traffic that runs from The Cable, and traffic from Cable and Wireless, would then be exchanged at that one point.

“In other territories there might not be such a simple opportunity to establish an exchange point because maybe you don’t have a situation where the fibers from the ISPs actually come together already, which might mean that you have to run new fiber and put in particular equipment, and you have to agree on a neutral site. In our case, we have a neutral site that is already prepared, as far as technology is concerned. In other territories, one has to look at finding and establishing sites that are similarly equipped. So, St. Kitts is a unique site and that is one reason why there is a bit of pressure for us to go first, since we are closest to establishing that [an IXP], as far as the technology is concerned.”

However, Wharton went on to explain that there are valid reasons why the IXP initiative has languished, due to a lack of urgency from some domestic stakeholders.

“We have to remember that the system works today, so there isn’t any particular pressure to make a change,” he said. “You go on the Internet, you connect, you go to various Web sites to download information, you get your e-mail, etc. Because the system is working as it is established, there isn’t any additional pressure for changing it, although it would be more efficient to do so.”

Wharton indicated that while one of the ISPs, The Cable, has signaled their full support for the establishment of an IXP, the other, Cable & Wireless, though interested in the subject matter, is viewing the issue from a different perspective.

“Given that they are part of a regional operation, they could not give a response that was singular to St. Kitts and Nevis,” he explained. “They did not want to be in a situation where they would establish an Internet Exchange Point in St. Kitts with the ISP here, but not to have one established in any of the other territories that they operate in.”

“That is really part of their difficulty,” Wharton continued. “They have taken the general position that they are interested in it, but it is just that they have to be mindful of the fact that they operate in more than one territory.”

W.R. Ewing, managing director of The Cable, evinced no such reservations about the establishment of a St. Kitts IXP.

“We are 100 percent in favor of it,” he asserted. “It would save everybody from having to go, in our case, through Miami. If you send an e-mail, it goes to Miami and back if it’s just being sent to someone across the street -- so, it uses bandwidth both directions. … The same factors apply to LIME. If their data went faster regionally, it would help them by saving bandwidth.”

“For instance, if someone downloads a movie here, it could be held in a file server here and would never leave the island,” he continued. “If someone wanted to access it [the movie], it would be on the island. So, there are all kinds of benefits in saving bandwidth, and bandwidth is very expensive. It would save us a lot of money, and then we could help our customers as well by providing a better, faster service, and probably cheaper. There is no downside to this.”

Ewing indicated that if an IXP is not established, it might eventually force his company into a bandwidth-by-month billing system, where customers would have to pay extra for Internet use above established limits.

In a July 15, 2009 letter addressed to Wharton, Ewing offered to facilitate the technical implementation of an IXP, stating: “The Cable has no difficulty with a Layer Two Switch being located on neutral territory at the Government Data Centre. The Cable would then provide, entirely at its own cost, a Gigabit Ethernet Fibre Optic Backhaul link between The Cable’s La Gueuite facility and the Government Data Centre at Bay Road.

“The Cable has a redundant Riverstone RS16000 switch with fibre optic interfaces available, which we believe would be suitable for the project. The Cable is prepared to donate this switch to the project on the understanding that that any future maintenance costs are divided equally between the various participants.”

After the August 27 symposium, Ewing followed up with Wharton via another letter dated September 1, stating, in part: “We find it difficult to understand why there is reticence by others to participate in this project, and we trust that you and the NTRC will be able to persuade the doubters of the advantages that can be gained by all concerned.”

To move the project forward, Wharton told The Observer that he plans to establish a timetable for further discussions with both ISPs.

The National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC) and LIME/Cable & Wireless were both contacted and provided an opportunity to address the issue of establishing a local IXP for this article, but responses to the questions posed were not received by press time. Both, however, indicated that replies would be forthcoming in due time.

Internet Exchange Point Issue Still Undecided

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