By Gerard Best
The Belize Public Utilities Commission announced that Belize’s first Internet exchange point, named BIXP, was successfully launched in Belize City last week at the campus of the University of Belize.
The launch was the culmination of unprecedented collaboration between Belizean Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the highly competitive local telecommunication sector. The Belize Public Utilities Commission, the national regulator, facilitated the process, with support from regional and international agencies.
An Internet exchange point is a piece of physical infrastructure through which ISPs exchange traffic between their networks. Many ISPs in the Caribbean pass the data through faraway networks in the United States or Europe, before rerouting to their consumers in their own country.
The new Belize IXP was formally inaugurated in a ceremony attended by Patrick Jason Faber, Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture and Frank Mena, Minister responsible for Public Utilities. Also present at the opening were John Avery, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, Bevil Wooding, Internet Strategist at Packet Clearing House, and Errol Cattouse, Chief Operating Officer, Centaur Cable and the newly appointed chairman of BIXP.
“For ISPs in Belize, having a local IXP means there is now a place in-country where they can come together to interconnect their networks and exchange local Internet traffic,” Bevil Wooding (photo above), in his feature address at the launch. “This translates to cost savings for ISPs and increased network reliability for their corporate and residential customers.”
“The new IXP is expected to help improve Internet service in Belize by eliminating dependence on international connectivity for local Internet traffic exchange,” Wooding said. “The new facility, the twelfth IXP to be activated in the Caribbean, will lower the average per bit delivery cost for local ISPs and significantly reduce the round-trip time for Internet traffic between local ISP networks. As a result, users can expect a more reliable, more resilient local Internet.”
His audience included representatives of Belize government, local Internet service providers, the private sector, the media and the University of Belize.
The BIXP launch is a major milestone for the telecommunication sector in the Central American nation. The country has ranked poorly by regional standards. The Belize Public Utilities Commission and industry watchers hope that the establishment of a local IXP can now catalyze the delivery of services based on e-health, distance learning, domestic data storage, video and audio streaming, e-government services, VoIP and other applications that depend on local traffic exchange.
According to Cattouse, the local exchange point is expected to serve as a hub for local Internet operators, a catalyst for innovation and the development of new Internet services in Belize.
The Belize IXP was established with the support of Packet Clearing House (PCH) and the Caribbean Network Operators Group, CaribNOG. In the lead-up to the launch, PCH and CaribNOG successfully organized several IXP workshops attended by ISPs, government officials, computer engineers and the private sector.
Wooding, who has played a key role in the establishment of IXPs across the region, explained that with the proliferation of local IXPs, the Caribbean can now earnestly begin building applications that run efficiently across local networks.
“Initiatives to connect our schools, courts, police stations, health facilities, and government and business offices and to deliver local and regional Internet-based services now have a far better chance of being deployed without the frustrations that would normally be associated with bandwidth-intensive local applications in the region,” Wooding said.
He pointed out, however, that the launch of a new IXP does not guarantee ultimate success. More work has to be done, he said.
“Discussions have to be initiated to develop new country-level network services. This must include strategies and incentives for ISPs to upgrade the ‘last-mile’ of their networks in order to deliver improved speeds and quality of service to consumers and businesses. In this regard, we can look at the IXP launch a small but vital step in the journey toward the development of the Belizean and the Caribbean Internet Economy.”
Packet Clearing House, a US-based non-profit firm that has played an active role in the establishment of over two-thirds of the world’s IXPs, has worked closely with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), an inter-governmental CARICOM organization, to actively promote the development of IXPs in the Caribbean.
So far, more than 300 IXPs exist in eighty countries around the world. Still, some ninety countries that are predominantly developing economies do not yet have IXPs of their own and depend on imported Internet bandwidth.
The CTU has also collaborated with CaribNOG, a volunteer-based community of network engineers, to stage technical workshops across the region.
Among the local ISPs participating in BIXP’s network are Alliance IP, Belize Telemedia, BroadBand Belize, Centaur Communications Corporation, NetKing, Network Solutions and Speednet.