Becoming a top 10 international Internet hub in just 5 years – lessons from Marseille

Becoming a top 10 international Internet hub in just 5 years – lessons from Marseille


Last year, for the first time since 2015, the long-term trend of declining growth rates in international Internet capacity was reversed.

This change wasn’t experienced in all regions, however. According to Telegeography, while many routes continued to experience slowing growth in 2018, Europe saw an acceleration from 22% in 2017 to 36% in 2018, which was enough to boost the overall global figure, even as international Internet bandwidth and traffic growth continue to slow.

This demonstrates just how significant Europe has become in the last five years. In 2013, the region was characterised as an emerging global Internet hub, whereas today it boasts six out of the top ten largest Internet hubs in the world. The global first place goes to Frankfurt, followed by London, Amsterdam, then Paris. Fifth place is Stockholm, and for the first time Marseille makes the top ten list, coming in at number nine, beating Hong Kong and just one place below New York.

What makes an Internet hub?

Internet hubs are a part of the Internet’s physical geography. They occur where a large number of network operators have chosen to collocate within the same metropolitan area. In pursuit of the common interest, carrier networks, CDNs, social networks, cloud, hosting, gaming and IT service providers choose to physically interconnect their networks within a data centre, or within the metro area among different data centres, at Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which is known as peering. As more networks arrive at a location, particularly those perceived as being critical commercial players such as content and service providers, a hub’s attractiveness increases, which in turn leads to even more network, IT and Internet related businesses joining.

For decades, the main European Internet hubs have been known by the acronym FLAP – Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris. But the growing demand for online content from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, combined with its unique geographical location, has led to Marseille becoming the fastest growing Internet hub on the continent.

One can speculate if the success of an Internet hub like Marseille is purely due to the accumulation of content providers meeting eyeball networks through cross-connects or peering ports. But there are other important factors at play that also have a significant impact: a high concentration of network fibres underground and/or undersea, a market known for its openness and competitiveness, and a local authority with a strong digital framework plan that works closely with local Internet infrastructure providers to enable growth and innovative initiatives.

Location matters

Because of its unique geography at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East and its historical maritime port activity, Marseille offers an incredible submarine legacy that few cities in the world can compete with: a gathering of 14 submarine telecommunications cables, including the latest AAE-1 and SEA-ME-WE 5 cables, which connect Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Today, thanks to this legacy and new deployments, Marseille enables access to 43 countries and 4.5 billion reachable users. By 2025, the number of cables is expected to increase to over twenty and the maximum capacity on these cables is expected to quadruple from 160Tbps today to 640Tbps.

In the network world, good location means good latency. When looking at a map, one can understand how Marseille offers low latency connections to networks in the Middle East, North Africa or Central Africa. Marseille’s proximity to these regions can offer bandwidth cost savings of up to 75%, while at the same time providing latency-sensitive networks and platforms with a solution for enhancing their end-user experience.

Finally, good access to potential new customers has always been the best way to identify a location with a strong future business opportunity. In other words, it is not today’s Internet usage data that is the most revealing but an analysis of tomorrow’s potential usage. This can be forecast by looking at population growth rates and existing market penetration. According to Telegeography’s State of the Network report, the pace of new international Internet capacity deployments varies by region. Africa experienced the most rapid growth of international Internet bandwidth, growing at a compound annual rate of 45% between 2014 and 2018. Asia and the Middle East were just behind Africa, rising at a 41% compound annual rate during the same period. Compare this with Internet penetration rates which show that in North America 89.4% of the population is using the Internet but in Africa, its only 37.3% and in Asia, its 51.8%. Today, Marseille’s location means it is uniquely positioned to provide access to these three high growth markets – Africa, Asia and the Middle East – simultaneously.

Cost per bit

The current deregulated market in France makes it possible to access carrier-neutral data centre facilities in Marseille, such as Interxion. This is a positive thing for end-user customers because it means there are multiple routes and providers, and so competitive prices to buy last mile or connectivity to anywhere in Europe. Today, this translates into the presence of over 100 international networks, 30 backhaul providers and 8 local fibre optic networks. Only the main Internet European hubs can compete with these numbers and there is no other location in the Mediterranean offering such diverse and competitive network options.

Essentially, for Internet end-users to be able to enjoy lower prices, you need a high density of ISPs to minimise transit costs; you need the presence of key IXPs, like France-IX, to reduce transit costs even further through peering agreements whereby IXP members freely interconnect to exchange Internet traffic; and you need new and diverse subsea routes to contribute to make the Internet more accessible and affordable around the globe. Marseille has it all.

Marseille, from a network hop to a hub

Marseille’s success is about more than its position as a digital gateway between the EMEA regions. With the arrival of leading content and cloud platforms, Marseille has transformed beyond being a strategic location for traffic exchange into a top ten global content-hub where carriers, digital media and cloud operators store and create content destined for consumption in multiple markets.

A look at PeeringDB, the public database where networks and data centres register their presence in a city, reveals that Interxion MRS1 and MRS2 are the home of content delivery networks (CDNs), cloud and content platforms, including Amazon Web Services, ebay, Google, Yahoo, Twitch, Microsoft Azure, Akamai, Arkena, Cloudflare, Limelight and Verizon Digital Media Services. In terms of total traffic flows, Marseille currently experiences 32Tbps but anticipates over 120Tbps in the near future. Public peering is expected to grow from 140Gbps to more than 4Tbps and the number of networks present, today over 150 of them, is predicted to increase to over 200, helping digital media traffic share to surge from 10% to around 60 to 70%. This data paints a convincing picture of Marseille as an Internet success story for the 21st century.

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