Halifax Internet Exchange just months away from launching

A local group is working to make internet in Halifax faster — and hopefully cheaper.

Non-profit group is looking to set up the first internet exchange point east of Montreal

John Sherwood, the president of the non-profit Halifax Internet Exchange says an internet exchange point would hopefully result in attracting new businesses, specifically IT ones, to Nova Scotia. (Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock)

A local group is working to make internet in Halifax faster — and hopefully cheaper.

Halifax Internet Exchange is just a few months away from launching. Group president John Sherwood says it will improve local internet service.

The not-for profit group is working on setting up an internet exchange point (IXP). There are IXPs in more than 600 cities in 115 countries in the world, according to Packet Clearing House, a non-profit internet research institute.

In Canada, there’s no IXP east of Montreal. This means that when someone in Halifax tries to open a local webpage, data sometimes has to travel across the country or even internationally before it loads.

Sherwood says IXPs provide a way for local internet traffic to stay local.

Benefits of IXPs

“If you have two different internet providers, sometimes the traffic to get from one to another….has to go to a far away city or even to a different country,” he said.

“That has two impacts. First of all, it’s expensive because the internet providers have to pay to have that traffic move. And secondly, it impacts the performance, there’s a delay and there can be congestion. There’s just too much traffic on some of those routes.”

Sherwood says an IXP is basically a single cabinet where all the clients have a way of connecting their networks. In the cabinet, there’s a high-performance ethernet switch to connect traffic together. The switch can handle a lot of traffic from many clients, Sherwood says.

Among the supporters for the project are the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which gave Halifax Internet Exchange more than $36,000 for its equipment.

“It helps keep traffic local in Canada. Without an internet exchange point, a lot of the traffic in Canada will traverse the United States to be exchanged and come back into Canada,” says Mark Gaudet, business development manager at the registration authority. “Even if you were sending an email between two people in Halifax, that traffic might go through the U.S and come back in order to be routed on the internet.”

Lower bills?

So, will consumers see lower bills? That will depend on the services providers, says Sherwood.

“There are some cost savings and those are direct cost savings for the internet providers. Hopefully, that means they’ll pass them on. In a competitive environment, that’s exactly what you would expect.”

Regardless of the impact on local wallets, Sherwood believes the IXP will be a catalyst for the local economy.

“There’s this perception around something like this that it is an important part of infrastructure for a well-connected community. If Halifax wants to be viewed as an intelligent community or a well connected community, then this is the kind of service that people would expect to have here. Hopefully, that will result in attracting new businesses, especially IT businesses.”

The next step

Other committee members on the not-for-profit group’s board include representatives from the province, the city of Halifax, Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia chapter of Atlantic Canada Organization of Research Networks (ACORN).

Right now, the equipment is purchased and assembled. The next stage is to move it to a permanent home. The group hopes to have the IXP running before the end of March, says Sherwood.

“This is an interesting project. It’s non profit, it’s all volunteer labour that’s going into this and we do it because we believe in it, we believe this is something the community needs and will be of benefit to the community,” he said.