Turkish translation of this interview is : James Cowie ; İran ve Irak, Ermenistan Üzerinden Sofya’ya ve Avrupa’ya Bağlanıyor, Türkiye Oyun Dışı Kalıyor
The news we published almost 1 month ago, we have explained that Turkey is losing its chance of being a regional leader of telecom over Bulgaria . How could Turkey reach its 2013 goal while there are so many economical, political and security issues in our region?
Turkey’s 10th Progress Plan indicates that we need “Paradigm Change”. It is debatable how we can make this change. However, we, not just us, still claim that being a regional leader of telecom will change lots of things.
James Cowie , Chief Scientist at DYN, an American Icompany working on internet performance, advocates the same opinions as we do in his presentation which was given in Azerbaijan . As we think his opinions may be taken into account more by some people, we interviewed James Cowie. You can read our interview below:
turk-internet.com : In your presentation given in Azerbaijan, you described Turkey as a true regional internet power. Could you please explain why?
James Cowie : First and foremost, geography. Turkey is well-positioned to be the natural bridge between Western Europe and the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Fiberoptic investments by Turk Telekom in recent years have acquired ample network capacity to Western Europe. Now the question is whether Turkey can become a place where content and online services are hosted for the other 280M people in the region.
It’s not enough to simply provide wholesale network capacity to Turkey’s neighbors. Internet transit is very cheap — just providing the pipe between one place and another. That benefits just one or two companies. But having a thriving datacenter and content-hosting industry would create a much broader range of jobs and opportunities for different Turkish companies. That’s what’s at risk today.
turk-internet.com : Turkey is losing its position recently in the last 3-5 years, what do you think about that? Is Turkey also losing something else with its position?
James Cowie : The race to host content is very competitive. Every country wants to be the target of investment as an Internet hub. But it takes at least four things to be successful: geography, technology, cheap power, and regulation. Turkey is ideal from a geographic standpoint, and has a well-educated workforce and lots of experience with high technology. Power is expensive, but Turkey is helping bring eastern energy supplies to western markets as well, and that will help bring down energy prices.
Regulation of content is probably the final stumbling block. Markets like Hungary and Bulgaria are perceived as being easier places to host content because they don’t intervene in or regulate content markets as aggressively. The Internet is good at routing traffic around problems and bringing investment to places that are easy to do business, and that has supported the development of competitive Internet hosting and infrastructure in places other than Turkey.
turk-internet.com : In your presentation, you have mentioned that ASN number is decreasing. What is the ASN number’s importance? Is there any relationship between ASN number and development? What is Turkey doing about that in the last 3-5 years?
James Cowie : The ASN numbers identify the companies in Turkey that are doing BGP routing — that is, they are prepared to have transit arrangements and peering with multiple different companies. We expect these to be not only ISPs, but also companies and organizations of all sizes.
Dyn Research measures the number of ASNs that appear in global routing from each country as part of our IP Transit Intelligence service. Turkey has 331 domestic ASNs in today’s routing table, which is roughly 4.2 ASNs per million citizens. You can compare that to Bulgaria today, with 6.6 ASNs per million citizens, or Greece with 11 per million, or Germany with 17 per million.
It may be that in countries that have a strong incumbent provider, smaller companies have less incentive to have their own ASN, or to participate in BGP routing. They can do what most companies in their country do: buy a single connection to the Internet through one ISP, perhaps the incumbent. But we also know that having only a single path to the Internet puts a company at greater risk of instability and disconnection, because that single path becomes a single point of failure. Even very good ISPs have problem days, and companies that have multiple providers can simply switch their traffic to the surviving ISP until the problem ends. So to increase national resilience, it would be useful to figure out how to encourage more Turkish companies to have two independent provider paths to the Internet.
turk-internet.com : You have also mentioned that domestic peering is essential. What is Turkey doing about that? Turkish Telecom (TT) is claiming that they are kind of peering point, is it possible? If yes, what could be the impacts of this in Turkey?
James Cowie : The definitions of peering are sometimes different from place to place. TT certainly fulfills that role for their customers — you can pay them for interconnection in one of their facilities, and all TT’s customers can exchange traffic easily through the TT backbone. That’s how a good service provider works, and it’s an important reason why service providers grow larger and larger, to take advantage of those economies of scale.
But it’s also important to have carrier-neutral points of interconnection, where ASNs can meet to exchange traffic even if they are not all buying from the same provider. Ideally, this might even be a facility where international carriers come and offer wholesale Internet transit directly to the domestic market. These sorts of facilities have largely been absent from the Turkish market. Instead of having a central place to meet, domestic service providers have built a mesh of connectivity among themselves using point to point links. That’s a more expensive model for all the participants.
Please note that I haven’t looked at the Turkish market in the last year, and there may be new developments that I’m not aware of. I would be glad to hear from companies who have different experiences!
turk-internet.com : Is it possible to install domestic peering? If yes, what would be the consequences of this for France and Amsterdam exchange points? What might happen in CIS-Middle East region?
James Cowie : If that were to happen, some of the traffic between Turkish domestic providers that now goes to Western Europe and back again, would potentially be settled within Turkey at much lower cost (or for free). You could also expect to see new investment in content companies and different kinds of hosting services that would be happy to meet all Turkish providers at lower cost at a centralized point.
To get some idea of what might happen, your readers might find it interesting to look at the model of PTTs (in Portugese, Pontos de Troca de Tráfego) that have been created in every major Brazilian city. These have significantly lowered the cost of interconnection domestically and to foreign carriers, and Brazil’s national ASN count has grown in 3 years from 712 to 2,679: that’s now more than 13 ASNs per million citizens. The Brazillian PTTs now handle more than 600 gigabits per second of aggregated national traffic (http://ptt.br/)! When two Brazillian companies exchange traffic at a PTT, that traffic doesn’t have to make a round trip out of the country, and that’s important for many reasons.
turk-internet.com : If you compare Turkey with similar countries. What would you say about us?
James Cowie :Turkey is of course unique! 🙂
But we can compare Turkey to countries of similar population in the region, like Iran, or Egypt. All three countries are natural geographic crossroads. All three are places where energy and telecommunications infrastructure crosses the country going from south to north, or from east to west. And all three are balancing the requirements of local law with the desire to become an important Internet regional hub. Turkey has a very great head start, I think, because of its strong economy and ties to the rest of Europe.
Iran and Turkey both have strong incumbent providers that sell international connectivity, so they both have the opportunity to provide their neighbors with Internet transit. Egypt has the submarine cables coming through from the Indian Ocean on their way to the Mediterranean, but the incumbent has not done much to export international connectivity or promote local hosting. Iran’s sanctions problems and Egypt’s political instability seem to me to give Turkey a clear short-term opportunity in becoming a regional Internet hub. But that opportunity may change quickly.
turk-internet.com : In your presentation, you have mentioned that today’s fiber cables are going through on the ancient Silk Road routes as well as energy and railways lines. What is the reason for that?
James Cowie :One of the most important costs of building fiberoptic routes is acquiring rights of way. Roads and rail lines are often places where it’s relatively easy to acquire those rights and lay the cable alongside. Pipelines and power lines are now constructed with fiber in place, to interconnect operators along the route and perform measurements. That means that there’s a possibility for the extra bandwidth to be used for Internet transit.
turk-internet.com : What are the advantages of terrestrial internet over subsea cables?
James Cowie : Rapid response is one: if there’s a break, you can often roll a truck and reach the break within hours, instead of having to wait for a cable repair ship to sail and retrieve a cable in deep water. And the latencies for terrestrial routes can be better, if the routes approximate straight lines between big cities. The terrestrial paths from Frankfurt through Turkey to Saudi Arabia, or from Frankfurt through Russia and Iran to Oman, can save a lot of time compared to the Mediterranean/Red Sea detour to the Gulf.
Of course, terrestrial internet across borders requires more faith in international relations, compared to a cable that arrives from deep international waters. And any single country through which the cable passes can become a weakness in the system — for example, TT’s JADI cable (Jeddah-Amman-Damascus-Istanbul) has been down for a long time due to the war in Syria.
turk-internet.com : You asked this question as well. Could Istanbul serve the region? How? What should we do?
James Cowie : Istanbul, rather than Frankfurt or London or New York, could be the city where applications and web content are hosted for the Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia. That would improve performance and stability for a large population of consumers around the region. It would put money in the pocket of Turkey’s international NSPs, and it would create new opportunities for digital content creators, hosting providers, software developers, financial transaction processing .. the whole range of services that benefit when the local Internet economy is growing.
turk-internet.com : Is Istanbul losing its position over Sofia? What could be the reasons?
James Cowie :Sofia is a less regulated place to do business, and takes advantage of Black Sea connectivity from Georgia. We increasingly see countries like Iraq going through Sofia via the Caucasus Cable System as a cheaper way of accessing popular content. When Google/Youtube deliver content from Sofia, or from Budapest, that share of consumer traffic from the Caucasus avoids Turkey altogether.
turk-internet.com : What about Iran’s connections? Why its connections are going to Sofia over Armenia?
James Cowie :Iran’s incumbent is really good at creating multiple paths, and creating multiple ways of achieving national connectivity. They have live connections through Turkey, through Armenia, and through Azerbaijan, and they offer those paths to customers in neighboring regions, like Iraqi Kurdistan or Western Afghanistan. Armenia seems to be a popular choice recently for that traffic, presumably because it’s a little faster and perhaps a little cheaper than the Azeri route as a way for Iran and Iraq to reach Sofia.
Turk-internet.com : What can you say about TASIM?
James Cowie :Of course we all wait to see when the Caspian Sea segment of TASIM will be built, between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. That is the missing piece of the puzzle of how to connect the Caucasus to Central Asia, avoiding a long northern detour through Russia. It would make paths through Turkey (or under the Black Sea to Bulgaria) more attractive to all the Central Asian countries. Since some of these countries are consumers of Turkish-language content, this would be a great connection to make.
turk-internet.com : What is your advice to Turkey??
James Cowie :I think Turkey has a great opportunity to be a regional leader and even build some “soft power” by keeping its neighbors connected to the Internet and hosting their content in-region (rather than everyone paying Western Europe for the privilege).
We know that projects like Openstack are making it easier to build Cloud infrastructure in many different places. And because so many services are now hosted in the Cloud, we can predict that global enterprises will migrate their online presence to places where business conditions are easy and predictable. Turkey is competing with other places (like Bulgaria, or Dubai, or Egypt, or even some day Iran) to be an important Internet marketplace. I think Turkish companies have a great opportunity to get their fair share of that economic growth.