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What is the Internet backbone?

Autonomous Systems (AS)

The public Internet is a complex mesh of almost one hundred thousand different, but ‘open’ networks - linked together with an almost limitless inventory of network hardware and millions of kilometers of fiber-optic cable. In technical terms, these are known as Autonomous Systems (AS). An AS is essentially a unique collection of IP addresses/address blocks and network hardware within a common administrative domain. Autonomous Systems communicate route information and steer traffic to each other using a protocol known as the Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP.

Internet backbone definition 

The Internet backbone can be simply defined as the core of the Internet. Here, the largest and fastest networks are linked together with fiber-optic connections and high-performance routers. Internet networks are primarily owned and operated by commercial, educational, government or military entities. Collectively, they facilitate a stable foundation for the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), content and cloud providers who provide Internet access or online content, applications and services to end-users and businesses.

Tier 1 networks

The largest providers are known as Tier 1 networks. Positioned at the top of the Internet ecosystem, these networks are sufficiently comprehensive that they don’t purchase IP Transit from anyone else. Tier 1 networks exchange Internet backbone traffic on the basis of privately negotiated interconnection agreements, usually on the principle of settlement-free IP peering. In general, networks lower down in the hierarchy pay for upstream IP Transit and networks of similar size and merit peer with each other.  Arelion (AS1299) is one of the largest and best connected global Tier 1 providers today. As a Tier 1 network owner we can reach every other network on the Internet solely via settlement-free interconnection. Our AS1299 is currently ranked #1 and our IP customers account for nearly 65% of all Internet routes. Whether you're a startup or Fortune 500, our network is the backbone of your business - connecting you directly to everything and everyone that matters. 

Who owns and controls the Internet?

The Internet is massive and immense, so who is its owner? The answer is no one, i.e., there is no organization, no company nor person that owns the complete Internet. Even control of the Internet is not regulated on a common level, though some governments have been trying to introduce a more controlled Internet for their specific location, but on the global level there is no organized control.  

Internet infrastructure is on the other hand owned by some large communication companies.

Illustration of What is the Internet backbone?

What makes a good Internet backbone?

Whilst Internet connectivity is often viewed as a commodity, performance can vary significantly between suppliers. When selecting an Internet backbone, there are a number of important things to consider:

Reach - a larger footprint generally means a service provider has greater control of network resources, and ultimately, quality.
Scalability - is a backbone built on leased capacity or own infrastructure? This will dictate the ability of a supplier to scale-up capacity, quickly and efficiently.
Proximity - How well connected is a backbone with the rest of the Internet and in what tier do they reside?
Connectivity – Does a backbone connect via third party transit networks and public exchanges or through a well-managed ecosystem of private peering connections with critical networks?

Internet backbone maps

Internet backbone maps depict the connections between different points of presence (PoP), making it easier for customer to see and define the shortest way to connect keeping the best possible quality and cost. 

See Arelion’s Network maps as a good example. 

Internet backbone cables

We use our own optical fiber backbone that spans thousands of kilometers across the world. We control, operate, and monitor all our routes to ensure cable stretches and exact fiber routings are thoroughly checked, documented, and maintained. We apply a rigorous process to all fiber routes, including fast, in-field action for fiber repairs to maintain high fiber availability.

Our own optical fiber backbone that spans thousands of kilometers across the world

Network Operations & Infrastructure

From the fiber up, our highly skilled engineers manage our network infrastructure from a nuclear bomb-proof network operations center, cased in two meters of concrete and a wall of Swedish granite, 35 meters below the ground. Our fully owned fiber and network assets allow us to operate a fully scalable, reliable and diverse network environment to deliver an award-winning customer experience.
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