PhD Thesis defense: Methods for revealing and reshaping the African Internet ecosystem as a case study for developing regions: From isolated networks to a connected continent

14 Dec

Roderick Fanou, PhD Student, IMDEA Networks Institute and University Carlos III of Madrid

PhD Defense

While connecting end-users worldwide, the Internet increasingly promotes local development by making challenges much simpler to overcome, regardless of the field in which it is used.

However, African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC), the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) of Africa, is characterized by the lowest Internet penetration: 28.6% as of March 2017 compared to an average of 49.7% worldwide according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates. Moreover, end-users experience a poor Quality of Service (QoS) provided at high costs. It is thus of interest to enlarge the Internet footprint in such under-connected regions and determine where the situation can be improved. Along these lines, this doctoral thesis thoroughly inspects, using both active and passive data analysis, the critical aspects of the African Internet ecosystem and outlines the milestones of a methodology that could be adopted for achieving similar purposes in other developing regions.

The thesis first presents our efforts to help build measurements infrastructures for alleviating the shortage of a diversified range of Vantage Points (VPs) in the region, as we cannot improve what we cannot measure. It then unveils our timely and longitudinal inspection of the African interdomain routing using the enhanced RIPE Atlas measurements infrastructure for filling the lack of knowledge of both IPv4 and IPv6 topologies interconnecting local Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It notably proposes reproducible data analysis techniques suitable for the treatment of any set of similar measurements to infer the behavior of ISPs in the region. The results show a large variety of transit habits, which depend on socio-economic factors such as the language, the currency area, or the geographic location of the country in which the ISP operates. They indicate the prevailing dominance of ISPs based outside Africa for the provision of intracontinental paths, but also shed light on the efforts of stakeholders for traffic localization.

Next, the thesis investigates the causes and impacts of congestion in the African IXP substrate, as the prevalence of this endemic phenomenon in local Internet markets may hinder their growth. Towards this end, Ark monitors were deployed at six strategically selected local Internet eXchange Points (IXPs) and used for collecting Time-Sequence Latency Probes (TSLP) measurements during a whole year. The analysis of these datasets reveals no evidence of widespread congestion: only 2.2% of the monitored links experienced noticeable indication of congestion, thus promoting peering. The causes of these events were identified during IXP operator interviews, showing how essential collaboration with stakeholders is to understanding the causes of performance degradations.

As part of the Internet Society (ISOC) strategy to allow the Internet community to profile the IXPs of a particular region and monitor their evolution, a route-collector data analyzer was then developed and afterward, it was deployed and tested in AfriNIC. This open source web platform titled the “African” Route-collectors Data Analyzer (ARDA) provides metrics that picture in real-time the status of interconnection at different levels, using public routing information available at local route-collectors with a peering viewpoint of the Internet. The results highlight that a small proportion of Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs) assigned by AfriNIC (17 %) are peering in the region, a fraction that remained static from April to September 2017 despite the significant growth of IXPs in some countries. They show how ARDA can help detect the impact of a policy on the IXP substrate and help ISPs worldwide identify new interconnection opportunities in Africa.

Since broadening the underlying network is not useful without appropriately provisioned services to exploit it, the thesis then delves into the availability and utilization of the web infrastructure serving the continent. Towards this end, a comprehensive measurement methodology is applied to collect data from various sources. A focus on Google reveals that its content infrastructure in Africa is, indeed, expanding; nevertheless, much of its web content is still served from the United States (US) and Europe, although being the most popular content source in many African countries. Further, the same analysis is repeated across top global and regional websites, showing that even top African websites prefer to host their content abroad. Following that, the primary bottlenecks faced by Content Providers (CPs) in the region are explored to outline proposals for further ISP and CP deployments.

Considering the above, an option to enrich connectivity and incentivize CPs to establish a presence in the region is to interconnect ISPs present at isolated IXPs by creating a distributed IXP layout spanning the continent. In this respect, the thesis finally provides a four-step interconnection scheme, which parameterizes socio-economic, geographical, and political factors using public datasets. It demonstrates that this constrained solution doubles the percentage of continental intra-African paths, reduces their length, and drastically decreases the median of their Round Trip Times (RTTs) as well as RTTs to ASes hosting the top 10 global and top 10 regional Alexa websites. We hope that quantitatively demonstrating the benefits of this framework will incentivize ISPs to intensify peering and CPs to increase their presence, for enabling fast, affordable, and available access at the Internet frontier.

About Roderick Fanou

Roderick Fanou graduated from Polytechnics of Abomey-Calavi (EPAC, University of Abomey Calavi), Benin Republic, in 2011 as a Design Engineer in Computer Science, Networks, and Telecommunications. He worked as network engineer at EUPHORBIA Sarl, a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) before joining IMDEA Networks Institute as a PhD student in 2013. He received a MSc. degree in Telematics Engineering from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), Spain, in 2014 and enrolled in the PhD program of the said university. His current research interests include impacts of Internet eXchange Points in the African region, Interdomain routing, Internet measurements, and CDNs.

Personal site

The thesis defense will be conducted in English

PhD Thesis Advisors: Dr. Pierre François; Prof. Dr. Francisco Valera Pintor, University Carlos III of Madrid, Spain
Doctoral Program: Telematics Engineering
Organization: University Carlos III of Madrid, Spain


More info

  • Location: Sala 3.1.S.08, Biblioteca Rey Pastor, Universidad Carlos III of Madrid, Avda. Universidad 30, 28911 Leganés – Madrid

  • Time: 11:30 am
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