Raunak Maheshwari, India director, Extreme IX

India is much behind its global counterparts as far as wireline broadband penetration is concerned. In such a scenario, an internet exchange (IX) can help drive the fixed broadband ecosystem in India. An IX is a neutral facility where content providers, CDNs, hosting providers, banks, various online service providers, cloud providers, internet service providers (ISPs), etc. can connect directly without an intermediary telco. In an interview with tele.net, Raunak Maheshwari, India director, Extreme IX, talks about the company’s plans and future growth areas. Excerpts…

How has your journey in India been so far?

We have been helping ISPs in India since 2009. Extreme was started by three Bulgarian technocrats, who were architects of the Bulgarian internet ecosystem. They brought their technology and experience of operating ISPs to India. In 2016, the Indian internet ecosystem reached a stage where further expanding the internet exchange became necessary. That is when Extreme Labs decided to start Extreme IX in India. Today, we have a presence at 24 locations in the country and our key focus is on being available in all important data centres in the country.

How has the pandemic impacted your business?

The pandemic, subsequent lockdown and the adoption of work-from-home have led to a surge in traffic. ISPs have witnessed a peak in data consumption, as high as 60-70 per cent of pre-lockdown levels. For us, there has been a 40 per cent growth in both traffic and new customers. So, the pandemic has helped us grow. We are currently running 1 Tbps data.

What role can an IX play in taking forward India’s digital narrative?

An IX saves costs for the participant networks and improves their performance. India is still at the periphery of the internet ecosystem as the wireline broadband penetration is only 7-8 per cent. The majority of the population accesses the internet using 4G, which is suitable for emailing, app-based messaging and short video clips, but is not capable of providing consistent high speed connectivity.

A good thing that has happened in the past few years is the development of IX points (IXPs) in India. While NIXI started in 2003, it was only after 2016 when private companies like us entered this space that the IXP ecosystem started to thrive. IXPs help democratise access to content. When the demand grew, ISPs that were connected to IXPs were able to meet the increased demand without a linear increase in their bandwidth costs.

What is India’s level of readiness for digital inclusion in terms of infrastructure? What are the key challenges and opportunities in rural markets?

In countries with a well-developed internet ecosystem, such as Japan, South Korea and the US, European countries and Latin American countries, both wireline and mobile are equally important. In India, only about 8 per cent of houses are connected through wireline broadband, which is far behind what is required for seamless ubiquitous internet access. India needs the industry and the government to work together to resolve this situation to meet the connectivity requirements of this country with a huge young population under 35 years of age.

One of the reasons why fixed broadband did not take off in India is the lack of an online services ecosystem. Although online services have picked up in the past decade, the rising daily data limits on mobile internet have not allowed fixed broadband to flourish. The ongoing pandemic has finally increased the demand for wireline broadband. While the demand has increased, it is still necessary to address problems in other parts of the ecosystem. These include a non-existent last mile, other than coaxial cables, in rural, semi-rural and small towns. In Tier 2 towns and metros, only a small percentage of the last mile is geared for high capacity.

Wireline providers need to invest heavily in FTTH to remove bottlenecks in their access networks. Telecom companies need to invest in increasing capacities to meet the connectivity demands of wireline broadband. To connect the rural sector of India with the internet, the government needs to work towards setting up infrastructure.

What will be your growth strategy for 2021?

We have already started our growth journey by announcing seven new data centres in Mumbai in 2020. We are still looking forward to increasing our presence at more locations and data centres, which will not only help provide faster broadband due to an improved peering ecosystem, but also facilitate the government’s Digital India Mission.