Big Interview

Q&A: Franck Simon, MD, France-IX

Franck Simon, MD at France-IX, talks to Capacity about partnership opportunities in the Middle East and Africa.

What opportunities are there for opening up Africa and the Middle East in terms of connectivity?

Perhaps the most significant opportunity for enhancing connectivity in Africa and the Middle East is through Marseille. A handful of cables from the MEA region (SEA-ME-WE 4 and AAE-1 among others) are landing there and other cables are being built (the SEA-ME-WE 5 cable for instance, which is due in 2016 and will add 24Tbps), offering a great deal of access to Europe and its peering opportunities. 

Our IXP in Marseille actually represents better connectivity for many providers in the Middle East than if there were a regional IXP, because the logistics and development are at different stages in different parts of the MEA region, and content hosted in the South of France is accessible quicker than anywhere else in Europe. 

With regard to opportunities, we have found that while there are Middle Eastern operators interested in receiving content from the Marseille IXP, the existence of several content providers already present in the region means that the demand is less pressing than from African operators. 


What part is France-IX playing in this movement?

Our natural role is to maximise the number of exchanges coming from EMEA. We are also playing a key part in the connectivity of Africa and the Middle East, both through the connections at our Marseille IXP and our deals with key partners in the regions, such as Seacom.  

We are also working with Internet Society to help establish internet exchanges. However, our role is to not only help to introduce these, but to connect content delivery networks (CDN) with the regions through our Marseille IXP. Soon, it will be as important for these regions to be connected with CDNs as internet service providers (ISP) and Marseille will be the place to ensure this connection. 

The significance of our role in the connectivity of Africa has been aided by language – many African countries are French-speaking to some degree, if not as a first language often learned at school, which means that our Marseille IXP is most suitable for delivering French content to these regions. 

A shared language also aids communications and helps to build strong relationships – a key element when peering. Our focus for the Middle East is to continue to partner with regional providers and participate in local events, with the aim to educate and empower more users to connect with France-IX and improve connectivity in the region.


What makes France a strategically important market?

France is important due to the sheer number and variety of networks connected through the country’s IXPs. We have a great deal of networks connected to our Paris IXP (around 270) – among which are large operators or CDNs. 

Our Marseille IXP also has this type of user, but due to its connections with MEA it is seeing a growing number of network providers from Africa as well. The potential number of customers that these networks bring to the exchange is resulting in a swell of French networks, eager to capitalise on the peering opportunities this represents. 

With this in mind, Marseille is quickly becoming an international hub of connectivity and we feel that eventually it will be as significant a gateway as Paris. 

The city’s cabling ensures that it delivers access to network providers in Eastern and Northern Africa, while cables from West Africa are connected to Brittany in France as well as the UK. By utilising both France-IX’s connections and those in other countries, users can better serve more regions.


What challenges do you anticipate and how will France-IX overcome these?

The main challenge in Africa is the financial restraints placed on providers in the region. Even if African service providers are interested in connecting with Marseille, many will be unable to do so (even for the short term), due to the costs associated with the long-haul link.

The main issue we face is in helping African ISPs to reach our Marseille IXP, as even connecting through the submarine cables between the regions is costly.

We are lobbying to help more African providers connect with Marseille, and one of the ways to do this is to push for the establishment of IXPs in Africa. This will reduce connection costs to Marseille, saving money on IP transit. 

In the short-term this will not address the underlying issue of overly-expensive connection costs, but it will help service providers to cut costs in other areas so that they can afford this connectivity. In the long-term, this may help to tackle the issue as it will put pressure on African IP transit providers, who face losing market share and will be under pressure to drop costs to compensate for this. 

I am convinced that as long as you have an IXP in one country, it will reduce the price of IP transit. This, however, is unlikely to be an immediate fix. We must help users to walk, before they can swim to Marseille.


What are some of France-IX's further strategic priorities over the next 12 months?

While our Marseille IXP remains a priority, we do have other irons in the fire.

We hope to address the need for higher connection speeds for larger users, introducing 100Gbps ports in 2015. Our largest existing user has 10 10Gbps ports, while we have several other members that are likely to migrate to one-to-two 100Gbps ports. Therefore we feel the time is right to offer these higher connection speeds. 

We are also looking to expand our marketplace further so that it is home to not only peering, but offers users’ other benefits too.