As the whole world desires, I too hope that 2021 brings an end to the pandemic and life goes back to normal. While humanity waits and works towards the new normal, I shudder at the thought of how things would be without the internet, more specifically, wireline broadband.
During the pandemic, work from home became normal. Businesses figured out collaboration and productivity tools for work from home, OTTs became the primary mode of consumption of entertainment, family gatherings and celebrations happened on video calls, and education had to also finally seriously figure out how to teach using the internet. The internet became a tool of giving continuity in some form to an otherwise standstill world. It will not be wrong if I say that the internet became the primary tool of access for work, education and entertainment.
India, even as large as it is, is still at the periphery of the internet ecosystem of the world. Our wireline broadband penetration is about 7-8% at best. The majority of the population has access to the internet using 4G, thanks to the disruption in the mobile internet provider industry. While 4G is good for random email or app-based messaging or short video clips, it is eventually wireless and thus incapable of providing consistent high-speed connectivity. A huge number of people simultaneously accessing the internet for using applications will need constant high bit rate connectivity, for example, audio-video conferencing for work, education or HD video streaming for entertainment.
India realized that mobile internet does not fulfil its needs. Video conference drops, OTT streams buffer and other such problems became common. Thus, there was a significant increase in demand for stable and reliable wireline broadband connectivity in India. The question one should ask is, how does the wireline broadband provider meet this requirement of increased bandwidth demand. IP Transit or internet connectivity is expensive, and revenue per user is constrained due to low 4G data prices. Statistics show that the bandwidth demand increased by about 40% within a week after the lockdown was announced.
One good thing that happened in the last few years is the development of internet Exchanges Points (IXP) in India. While NIXI started in 2003, it is only after 2016, when private companies like Extreme IX got serious about this, that the IXP ecosystem started to thrive. While there is some technical jargon behind IXPs, the stuff they do and how they benefit, they eventually provide the internet providers with low-cost access to content. They help in localizing content, bringing it as close to the user as possible.
When the demand grew, IXPs were there to serve it. The ISPs who were connected to IXPs were able to meet the increased demand without a linear increase in their bandwidth costs. IXPs help democratize access to content. A small ISP, even in a small city like Kota, is able to meet costs of increased bandwidth demand due to an increase in requirements of current users and also new users.
For increasing penetration of wireline broadband in India, along with technologies like FTTH for access networks, IXPs are also critical as they democratize access to content, localize content as close to the end-user as possible and enable ISP to save costs on IP Transit. Currently, in India, an ISP can offload about 60-80% of traffic to IXPs. Extreme IX intends to bring this up to 90%. This is necessary if India has to become a global hub for cloud and content, as envisioned in National Digital Communications Policy 2018.
Author - Raunak Maheshwari, Director, Extreme Labs