Image: Marseille, France.
The last five years have seen Europe mature from an emergent regional Internet hub to a fully-fledged global Internet hub that boasts six out of the top ten largest Internet hubs in the world. The top four, known by the acronym FLAP, are Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, and then Paris followed by Stockholm at number five. Coming in at number nine –beating Hong Kong and just one place below New York – is Marseille, which not only makes the top-ten list for the very first time, but is the fastest growing Internet hub on the continent.
Internet hubs occur where numerous carrier networks, CDNs, social networks, cloud, hosting, gaming and IT service providers choose to collocate, either by physically interconnecting at an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) within a data centre, or within the same metropolitan area among different data centres via a cross-connection. As an increased number of networks arrive at a location, especially those considered to be 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. In this way Internet hubs become part of the Internet’s physical geography, and an integral part of the Internet ecosystem.
Location, location, location
The French port of Marseille has long been strategically important for trade and commerce thanks to its unique geographical location at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Few cities can compete with it from a submarine viewpoint as it is the landing point for 14 telecommunications cables, including the latest AAE-1 and SEA-ME-WE 5 cables, which connect Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Thanks to these 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 160 Tbps today to 640 Tbps.
When it comes to networks, the better the location the lower the latency and Marseille’s location offers low latency connections to networks in the Middle East, North Africa or Central Africa. Because of Marseille’s proximity to these regions, bandwidth cost savings can be gained of up to 75%, while at the same time providing latency-sensitive networks and platforms with a solution for enhancing their end-user experience.
In addition to the presence of a high concentration of underground and/or undersea network fibres, the location of a successful Internet hub also depends on the current market and its future potential. On a national level, the French telecoms market is open and competitive and on a local level, the Marseille local authority works closely with local Internet infrastructure providers to help facilitate growth as part of its digital framework plan. The future business opportunity can be revealed by identifying where tomorrow’s potential Internet usage will come from. One way to do this is to look at international Internet bandwidth growth rates alongside market penetration. According to Telegeography’s State of the Network report, 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 Africa only 37.3% of the population is using the Internet 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.
For end-user Internet customers to enjoy lower prices, you need a high density of ISPs so that transit costs can be minimised through competition; you need the presence of IXPs, like France-IX, so that transit costs can be reduced even further through peering agreements – this happens when IXP members choose to physically interconnect to exchange Internet traffic freely, in pursuit of the common interest – and you need new and diverse subsea routes to contribute to make the Internet more accessible and affordable around the globe. Marseille has all this. Thanks to the current deregulated market in France, carrier-neutral data centre facilities such as at Interxion in Marseille, encourage the presence of multiple routes and providers with competitive prices to buy last-mile or connectivity to anywhere in Europe. Today, Marseille boasts 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.
Marseille’s success is built on more than its position as a digital gateway between the EMEA regions. The arrival of leading content and cloud platforms heralds its transformation from a strategic location for traffic exchange into a top ten international 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 32 Tbps but anticipates over 120 Tbps in the near future. Public peering is expected to grow from 140 Gbps to more than 4 Tbps 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%.
So, is Marseille’s transformation into a top ten international Internet hub purely due to the accumulation of content providers meeting eyeball networks through cross-connects or peering ports? This is undoubtedly important but other factors also have a significant impact: its high concentration of network fibres – underground and undersea – a market known for its openness and competitiveness, and a supportive local authority all contribute to make Marseille the Internet success story it is today.