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Growing the Internet 19 June 2020

Explainer: What is Internet Peering?

In many parts of the world, connecting to the Internet is slow and expensive. Peering – exchanging traffic between networks – can help address this.

When you hit send on an email to a friend, it travels along the network you are connected to. 

Often, it will have to cross over to another network – or many other networks – before it makes it to your friend’s inbox.

The entities that own and run these networks – service providers, companies, universities, governments –  make agreements about what happens when your email moves from one network to another. Peering is when they agree to freely exchange their traffic with each other for mutual benefit.

Public Versus Private Peering

There are two main types of peering:

  • Public peering is usually carried out through an Internet Exchange Point (IXP), where one network can peer with multiple other networks through a single connection.
  • Private peering is when two or more networks agree to exchange their traffic at a private facility. 

Without a local IXP, Internet service providers have to use expensive international Internet connectivity to exchange and access global traffic, content hosted abroad, and local traffic.

How Public Peering Works

The IXP provides the necessary hardware to connect multiple networks. And each network operator needs to have an individual peering agreement with each of the other networks connecting through the IXP.

Most peering agreements require the network operators to have the following:

  • a publicly routed autonomous system number (ASN),
  • one block of public IP addresses, and
  • a network edge router capable of running Border Gateway Protocol.

The Benefits of Public Peering

Peering through IXPs keeps traffic local, providing faster connections between the two networks.

It’s also cheaper, because the networks are directly exchanging traffic, rather than paying a third party to do it. And it gives greater control over traffic flows, improves overall network performance and increases bandwidth capacity.

What’s more, network operators have access to additional support provided by their peering partners.

The Difference Peering is Making

In Africa, peering via IXPs is improving connectivity, reducing costs and creating opportunities.

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