‘India needs to scale up investments to improve Internet access in rural areas’ - Ivo Ivanov, the CEO of DE-CIX International

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Ivo Ivanov, the CEO of DE-CIX International, one of the largest Internet Exchanges in the world, talks about the infrastructure India needs to ensure that everyone in the country has access to the Internet.

Internet has become the backbone of everyday life in India. Be it access to ration or getting vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus, online has become the new normal. Yet, the country still has a long way to go before the technology reaches to all. Ivo Ivanov, CEO of DE-CIX International, one of the largest Internet Exchanges in the world, talks about the infrastructure India needs to ensure everyone has access to the Internet.

 

Does India have the required infrastructure necessary for handling the internet traffic that the present situation asks for? What kind of investment do you feel is necessary to make India’s internet seamless?

India’s Internet infrastructure has significantly improved, and the pandemic has been a prime factor for this transformation. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the geographical density of Internet infrastructure must be increased. While there are already hundreds of millions of Indians using the Internet, not even 30% of rural India has access. This needs to change. More investment is required in the whole array of digital infrastructure and connectivity options — there is a need for more fibre and mobile connectivity, connecting the rural regions, as well as developing edge connectivity.

The adoption of technologies like 5G and Wifi-6 is very important for economic development as it enables businesses to fully exploit the advantages of the digital economy. Added to this, there is a need for greater investment in the construction of data centres so that digital content, applications, and cloud services can be housed as close to the users as possible. Besides these, the establishment of connectivity to LEO satellites can bring the Internet to places that fibre and mobile networks can’t get to.

India can expand its role in the global market by scaling up investments in physical infrastructure and investing in the collaboration of local and global entrepreneurs, like digital information technology services, including big data, Internet of Things, and analytics. All of the digital infrastructures also need to be interconnected via high-performance Internet Exchanges to share data at the local level and allow data to flow, reducing the distance data needs to travel and therefore improving the performance of the applications and content.

 

At the start of the pandemic, we saw companies scrambling to increase the data plan. Is there a supply-demand mismatch in India at this moment?

The rising demand in Internet traffic we saw last year due to the pandemic, while remarkable in its scale, could be absorbed easily and smoothly and without concerns at the DE-CIX IXs.

We saw peak traffic records broken at our IXs in India during 2020. At DE-CIX India, from February 2020 to February 2021, we saw significant growth in different segments of data traffic, reflecting the needs of people during a lockdown —keeping in touch with others, entertainment, and access the cloud and virtual offices. OTT and VOD traffic also grew very strongly, followed by gaming and ISP. Then CDN and Social and Online Media traffic grew by almost the same scale, whereas hosting traffic, bringing up the rear, nonetheless showed a strong rise.

There is a gap in customer expectations, especially from work-from-home perspective. Many organizations struggle to keep up with the demand of their staff. As such, the sudden increase in network usage was not expected and the existing company infrastructure was not built accordingly. But, the Internet infrastructure itself was and is capable of absorbing the increase in data traffic experienced in India throughout the pandemic.

 

As you mentioned that the cyclone has affected the exchanges. With extreme weather conditions becoming common is India, is it possible of shielding the network from vagaries of nature?

Too often, when there isn’t enough infrastructure in place, be it railroads, bridges, or digital infrastructure, a region becomes vulnerable to single points of failure which can have an impact also further afield.

Therefore, there is great value in having distributed infrastructure — meaning that if multiple networks cover a region, then they can interconnect with each other locally to create more resilient paths for data to travel from point A to point B. It is important to have several ways to route around an area that is affected, for example, by storm damage, to make sure that other areas are not also impacted.

This is why we have our interconnection infrastructure in India distributed across 15 data centres providing both greater geographical density and locational redundancy. Having a range of infrastructure providers — network operators, Internet service providers, data centre operators, etc. — interconnected via an IX increases the resilience of the Internet.

By connecting to DE-CIX, these infrastructure providers and their customers benefit from the largest carrier and data centre neutral ecosystem in India. As a result, India is becoming increasingly capable of withstanding challenging conditions, but certainly, there is still work to be done. The pandemic has made organizations very well aware of the importance of state-of-the-art infrastructure and the need to be well equipped for extreme weather conditions.

 

Internet is the backbone of everything in India. But we still get to hear of dark areas where the network fails. As a service provider, what’s your analysis of this?

As a provider of interconnection services, we do not operate backbone or data centre, but partner with operators of all kinds of digital infrastructure. We are, in fact, always looking for and developing new techniques to expand the digital ecosystem both at global and local levels. I think one of the most exciting developments for India currently is the potential of LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) satellite Internet provision, which can bring remote communities online to join the global Internet.

These communities are struggling to run online businesses and gain proper access to the Internet as a result of their current connectivity solutions. These often involve copper cable networks and at most geostationary satellite connectivity, resulting in Internet speeds down to less than one megabit per second and latency (response time) as high as 400 milliseconds end-to-end.

Through its “Space-IX” Program, DE-CIX is ready to support the infrastructure needs of the whole range of space-network operators, in particular LEO satellite operators, with terrestrial interconnection, providing them with an interconnection solution that enables access to terrestrial content, cloud, and application networks. This can have a substantial impact on reducing the dark areas on the Indian map and of course, further adds to the diversity and resilience of the Indian Internet as a whole.

 

Tell us about your operations in India. Any investment plans or business figures you want to share

Regarding our operations, DE-CIX runs four Indian IXs in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Delhi, interconnecting 375-plus networks in 15 PoPs, and plays home to the largest carrier and data centre-neutral ecosystem in India. The largest of these, DE-CIX Mumbai, gained the ranking late last year of the second-largest IX, based on connected networks, in the Asia Pacific region.

DE-CIX India also offers a single access port for multi-services, meaning that a single port can be used by any connected network for both interconnection services, peering, and the DirectCloud Service. DE-CIX has recently received a patent for ‘Blackholing Advanced’ in Germany as a DDoS prevention mechanism, and this will soon be available in India as well.

Overall, what we see developing at the moment is that society and businesses in India and around the globe are entering a new era of digitalization in which digital applications and services will be needed everywhere, for everyone. To ensure best performance of digital applications and services, latency needs to be minimized; meaning that digital applications need to get closer to the users because latency is the new currency.

To achieve this, the digital infrastructure that houses and transports data needs to be at the edge of the network — as close as possible to the point where the user connects to the network or where the data is being generated. DE-CIX also plans to continue expanding to new locations, together with partners, to increase the geographical density of interconnection services, and therefore bring content and applications closer to the user.

We also make it possible to order interconnection infrastructure as a managed service, a highly scalable turn-key solution that enables data centre operators and other stakeholders in India to create their own interconnection ecosystem.

Beyond this, we are constantly innovating the service portfolio, bringing tailor-made interconnection services to an ever-wider range of customers. While Internet Exchanges have traditionally been seen as locations where carriers, ISPs, content networks, and content delivery networks interconnect to exchange data, we are now seeing an increasing number of participants joining from other industry segments, like healthcare, finance, retail, logistics, entertainment (such as gaming) and of course, automotive.

This is a development that DE-CIX aims to support in order to ensure a smooth transition to a digital society and economy. Having established a Cloud Exchange in India in 2020, we have now taken our service offering to the enterprise segment further – enabling an enterprise to build a closed and secure private ecosystem, a Closed User Group (CUG), within existing DE-CIX ecosystems. In this way, the Indian enterprises can further minimize the geographical distance to the other networks – and thus optimize the latency – as well as improving security and resilience.

 

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