As a result of attending the Networking Workshop for Developing Countries hosted by the Internet Society (ISOC) in California in 1999, one of Kenya's Internet engineers obtained knowledge about how to design, set up, and maintain an IXP. Upon returning to Kenya, he shared this information with other network operators who were keen to begin work on establishing a local IXP. After about a year of preparatory work, including the design and implementation of the technical operation, funding model, and legal framework, the first IXP was launched in Nairobi in November 2000 as KIXP.

The Telecommunication Service Providers Association of Kenya (TESPOK), a professional, non-profit organisation representing the interests of ISPs and other telecommunication service providers in Kenya, operates KIXP. KIXP does not have a separate governance structure and policies are established through committees of TESPOK

Licensing issues

Almost immediately following the launch of KIXP in 2000, the incumbent telecom operator, Telkom Kenya, filed a complaint with the national telecommunications regulator, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK). They argued, at that time, that KIXP violated Telkom Kenya’s exclusive monopoly on the carriage of international traffic. Within two weeks, the CCK concluded that the KIXP required a telecommunications operators licence, found that KIXP was an illegal telecommunications facility, and ordered that it be shut down.

In response to the CCK’s closure order, a case was then presented to the Communications Appeals Tribunal with a strong technical argument showing that KIXP was merely a standard, off-the-shelf Ethernet hub. If KIXP were shut down on the basis of the Commission’s finding, then the CCK would be required to shut down every computer network in the country since the technical architecture and components of those networks and KIXP were equivalent. The Kenyan Internet providers also argued that KIXP was a closed-user group and therefore legal under the Kenyan Telecommunications Act. In addition, it was also pointed out that the local exchange of domestic Internet traffic does not contravene Telkom Kenya’s international monopoly, as all international traffic would continue to flow over its international links. 

Telkom Kenya’s opposition to KIXP was fierce, fed by the fear of losing a significant portion of its international leased line revenues. In the course of its arguments, Telkom Kenya had misrepresented the situation. Because the matter was made public and had received a significant amount of attention and coverage in the local and international media, a face-saving solution was necessary. 

The approach eventually adopted was the establishment of a company called KIXP Limited that applied for an IXP licence that CCK duly granted. This made Kenya the first, and only, country in the world to adopt an IXP licence requirement.

After nearly a year of intensive efforts, including public pressure, threats of litigation, and private diplomacy, TESPOK finally received the approval of CCK in the form of a license, granted in November 2001. KIXP became operational again in mid-February 2002, having interconnected five Kenyan ISPs.

Membership Criteria

During 2004, TESPOK members adopted policies governing membership and use of KIXP that limited membership in and connection to the IXP to licensed ISPs. This condition prompted a policy review that lifted all restrictions on membership and lowered joining fees by 600%. Membership now costs KSH20000 (about USD330) per month. There are about 30 members peering at KIXP, including more than a dozen ISPs, one government network (Kenya Revenue Authority), one education network operator, one ccTLD operator, three Internet backbone gateway operators, one value-added telecommunication services provider, and two GSM operators.

The IXP Location

In order to ensure the acceptability of the IXP concept in Kenya, it was essential to emphasize the neutrality of the facility and obtain consent from prospective members on its location. One of the biggest issues in establishing KIXP related to deciding where it would be hosted. A number of options were evaluated, including the following:

  1. Telkom Kenya was ostensibly the most suitable option since it was the incumbent public national telecoms operator. Some of the reasons cited in favour of Telkom Kenya included the fact that all Internet providers already had existing links to its data network. Additionally, due to its central location in Nairobi, it would be much easier for the members to gain physical access to the IXP, regardless of their location. However, this option proved to be unworkable because, as described above, Telkom Kenya saw the IXP as a threat to its business and declined the ISPs' request to host KIXP.
  2. The University of Nairobi was considered as an alternative host for KIXP mainly due to its dynamic computer studies faculty and its central location. The main concern about using the university as the location of the IXP was the frequency of student riots and related security concerns. Since KIXP was expected to serve a mission-critical purpose, this concern eliminated the university as a viable option.
  3. Two ISPs with offices conveniently based in the Nairobi CBD offered to host the IXP. The challenges with this option were a) which of the two ISPs to choose and b) the fact that most of the other ISPs expressed a high level of dissatisfaction with the possibility that a competing ISP would manage the IXP without seeking to give themselves undue advantage.

After an evaluation all of the various existing options without finding one that satisfied all the potential members, the idea of leasing space in a provider-neutral, conveniently located building was posed. Because this option allayed most of the fears and concerns expressed, and as a result, 1500 square feet of space was leased on the top floor of a strategically located office building in the Nairobi city centre.

Minimising Costs

The main operational consideration related to KIXP was cost. As with any other type of data networking or communications infrastructure, costs fell into two broad categories: set-up and operating. Set-up costs included the cost of purchasing equipment for the core of the IXP as well as furnishing the room where the IXP was to be located with backup power, air-conditioning, equipment cabinets, and the relevant security fixtures. The initial equipment was funded both by a donation from Cisco Systems as well as a small grant from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID). Other set-up expenses were covered by funds from TESPOK. Since the space where KIXP was located was not free, it was necessary to find a way of covering the operating costs, such as rent, electricity and insurance costs. A monthly subscription fee for all members connecting to KIXP was introduced to cover such baseline operating expenses.

Technical Model

A number of different technical models were evaluated for the Kenya IXP with agreement reached that KIXP would be based on the same model as the Hong Kong Internet Exchange - a Layer 2 Route Reflector IXP. As a result, the KIXP facility consists of two high-speed Ethernet switches and each KIXP member has the option of connecting their routing equipment to both switches. Under this arrangement, should one switch fail, the other would take over automatically. The core is supplemented by two 'route reflectors' that are specially configured routers that bounce routing logic to all members at the KIXP until all the routers have the same view of the network. This design aspect allows for quick and easy IXP agreed policy implementation at the exchange point, KIXP is capable of supporting up to 48 networks and capacity can be extended to support up to 200 networks. The current power consumption for KIXP is 15KVA.

Second Location - Mombasa

In August 2010, KIXP launched the country’s second IXP in Mombasa, located over 500kms from the country’s first IXP in Nairobi. Mombasa is the landing point for all undersea fibre cables to Kenya and other landlocked countries in East Africa, making it an attractive location for international carriers to interconnect with the region. Operators perceived the choice to host the Mombasa IXP with Seacom as a neutral point. With KIXP in Nairobi and the IXP in Mombasa, Kenya is expected to increasingly become a hub for traffic in the region.

Outgrowing the original facility

With an annual growth rate of over 100%, the KIXP facility has outgrown its original location.  As a result, a tender was published in 2013 to identify a new larger and more suitable location that would also have a more reliable power supply. The bid was won by the East Africa Data Centre located at Sameer Park where KIXP is expected to be operational in early 2014.

The tender document required of the bidders:

  • Experience in operating data centres and offering data facility services.
  • Ability for the site to provide:
  1. 24 hours on-site access for all members using KIXP
  2. Fully redundant air conditioning system
  3. Fully redundant UPS and power reticulation systems
  4. Backup generators
  5. Fire protection systems
  6. Service availability levels and maximum time to repair each system unit in case of failure.
  7. Security and privacy of data
  8. Measures to address hardware and software failures
  9. Regulatory compliance

10. Unrestricted access for licensed providers to install connectivity infrastructure to the facility

11. Sufficient space for four racks, growing to eight over a two-year period with a negotiable payment option for a further two years.

12. Adequate space allocation for infrastructure service provisioning not considered under the contracted footprint required for KIXP.

13. Facility services to KIXP and its members at a subsidized cost that may cover either the cost of power or rack space or both.

14. Logging procedures for persons accessing KIXP and access logs (ideally on line)

15. Additional facilities such as remote online camera monitoring and remote console capabilities

16. Procedures for installation and removal of equipment

17. Availability of parking

  • Engineers and/or technicians who have qualifications and experience in network administration with two or more of them qualified with the license of telecommunications engineering certificate and or telecommunications installation certificate.

Routing Policy, Connectivity and Traffic

KIXP previously operated a Mandatory Multilateral Peering Agreement (MLPA) under the terms of which each member must allow peering with every other member. However, this requirement was changed in 2009: the agreement no longer imposes any restrictions on the peering relationships between participating networks.

Until KIXP became operational, all Internet traffic in Kenya was exchanged internationally. Roughly 30% of upstream traffic was to a domestic destination. International bandwidth currently costs about USD 500 per megabyte per month, while the price for domestic bandwidth is about USD 50–100/Mbps/month. During the first two weeks of KIXP’s operation, measurements indicated that latency was reduced from an average of 1200–2000 milliseconds (via satellite) to 60–80 milliseconds (via KIXP).

Local traffic has also improved due to the rise in local content due, in part to, digitisation of some government services and the arrival of international content companies, such as Google, that now host their services locally. All Google traffic (searches, mail, maps, applications and documents) goes through KIXP. Popular Google content, such as YouTube videos are served from a Google cache shared between members of KIXP.

Due to the limited capacity on the incumbent telecom operator’s leased lines, most Internet service providers have moved to terrestrial fibre to connect to the KIXP which means that they have links of multiple megabits per second into the exchange.

Shared Services

KIXP has implemented local instances of the Internet’s F and J root servers in addition to local .com and .net resolution services. As a result, locally originated lookup requests for these services no longer need to transit international links for a response, improving the responsiveness of website lookups and reducing the load on international links.

In 2005, the Kenya Network Information Centre (KENIC), in line with its mandate to promote access to the Internet in Kenya, set up a GPS-enabled NTP Server at KIXP to provide date and time integrity for computers. Most service providers had implemented time synchronisation on their systems utilising network time servers located in foreign countries. However, these services were not extended to their clients due to the unreliable connectivity and prohibitive costs associated with international links. Some of the organisations now using the local NTP services include government bodies, ISP's, banks, companies and some educational institutions that are able to save on organisational expenses resulting from operational failures and data losses due to time inconsistencies.

KIXP also offers value-added services such as enabling members to exchange network security data and registering them in the global peering database.

KIXP publishes detailed information on Internet usage patterns. Overall, traffic now hits 1Gbps during peak time. The data reveals that traffic flows are highest during weekday business hours, highlighting the opportunity for ISPs in Kenya to maximize off-peak use by developing products and encouraging content attractive to home Internet users.

KIXP is a member of the European IXP association, EURO-IX.

KIXP summarises its benefits as follows:

  • Access to the .KE Domain Name System and Servers
  • Access to the Kenya Revenue Authority System
  • Access to the 3 global Domain Name System Root Servers
  • Access to an Authentic Network time Source Server
  • Connectivity on Fibre Optic Connection
  • Access to a Route Views Server
  • Access to 34 Service provider networks in Kenya
  • Access to 110 Networks (Autonomous System Numbers) from around the world

See also the ISOC study: Assessment of the impact of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) – empirical study of Kenya and Nigeria.