Liquid Telecom rolling out public DNS servers in Africa to improve internet speeds

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liquid-logo-newLiquid Telecom, a source at the company has told us, is implementing an Anycast DNS platform in Africa for hosting of their domain’s DNS, but more importantly for us all, as public DNS servers for internet users across the continent. This, in theory at this moment, as we have not exhaustively tested it, simply means faster internet for people that choose to use it.

A little background first

Ever been in a situation where somehow you were connected to the internet but you can’t open websites in your browser? And then maybe you asked a techie what that was about and the problem vanished after they switched something they referred to as DNS servers from your ISP’s to Google’s. And they told you to leave the new settings as they were.

This issue is super annoying actually coz no ordinary internet user knows where to start to help themselves, and yet it’s a common problem. Thankfully though, once the settings have been changed to Google or other global DNS providers though, you’re sorted.

What are these DNS servers and why are they important

Put simply, DNS servers are what help your computer or phone locate the addresses of the websites and apps that you connect to. By default, your ISP does all this technical stuff in the background so you never need to know about it. Except that ISPs by default make you connect to the internet using their DNS servers and because these go down sometimes (maintenance of a robust DNS infrastructure is not their speciality) you find yourself in the situation above.

Which is why amazing internet companies like Google made it their job to provide a public DNS service that is robust. Them and OpenDNS (really cool DNS service) and Ultra DNS, and DNS Advantage. And now, for users in Africa at least Liquid Telecom. It’s not that public DNS servers are a big deal – operators on the continent like MTN, Mweb, iWayAfrica etc… already have them – it’s that being anycast with nodes across the continent means faster services and that the chances of it ever being down are very slim.

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How does Liquid’s infrastructure work?

The recursive DNS the company is rolling out is primarily for Liquid customers and their ISPs but it’s going to be publicly available on 5.11.11.5 and 5.11.11.11. It uses the exact same principle as Google DNS but the key advantage over Google even is that the servers being on the African continent means they are closer to African users which translates to faster internet.

The anycast servers will be located in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya or Uganda and London. If you want find out more about anycast, read this. Being anycast essentially means that should any of the servers in these countries fail, internet users will automatically be able to use the servers in the other countries (all of which are still closer than Google) without calling on a techie to change the settings.

Our tests show that where it would take about 180 milliseconds to reach Google’s Public DNS servers, the new Liquid DNS servers performed below 20ms. In addition to Zimbabwe, we are told the South Africa and Kenya nodes are already online and that Uganda and London are going live in the coming weeks.

10 Comments

  1. macd chip says:

    Aah Kabweza, you know l dont agree with your simplified defination of DNS. DNS doesnt help to locate ip address or websites you connect to, thus a job four routers and routing tables.

    DNS help translate between a human readable words like http://www.kabweza.co.zw into what a computer understand like 11001011.00111101.01111110.00000001 which is the binary system.

    Simply put, computers understand numbers, humans understand words, dns does the translation between the two.

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks for the comment bro. I struggled coming up with as simple an explanation as possible and kinda knew i was getting into the geeks’ firing line. I didn’t want to get into the relationship between ip addresses and names and the role of DNS servers in that sense. But yeah, there’s a chance I confused it more for some.

  2. Anthony Somerset says:

    I did some real world comparisons comparing Google DNS and Liquid DNS with common websites

    For an average website like Facebook that might be requesting resources from several different domains/subdomains, it improved the “feel” of page load time by around a second. the more domains a page requests assets from the bigger this margin will be, purely on the basis that you save say 150ms per domain so for 5 different domains on a page thats 750ms (or 0.75seconds) difference – you can see how this adds up over time as well

    To counter Macd Chip’s comment while he is officially correct – DNS is still essential for “finding” sites, yes computers talk numbers and humans words but our router or machine still has to ask where is x domain and get an answer that its at Y IP. only then can your computer go i want to connect to IP Y and your router starts looking/routing

    1. macd chip says:

      Anthony, it doesnt ask where a domain or website is, it ask where an IP address is. It does that after it had done a AND calculation to determine if the IP it wants is on local network or not.

      If its not, it checks its cache then pass everything to the configured default gateway.

      1. Anthony Somerset says:

        just to be devils advocate… 🙂

        DNS client (your router or computer) asks DNS Server, where is domain.com?, DNS server answers yes its at x.x.x.x IP

        obviously for simplicity i have excluded the whole nature of caching and recursion etc but DNS is still the process of searching for an IP by “name” and finding the result – much akin to looking up an address by Postal or ZIP code in other countries. sure the internet is much more complex than that but for the purposes of the article and making it simple for everyone i thought Limbikani got it just about right as a laymans explanation rather than getting into routing protocols, BGP etc etc.

        1. Anthony Somerset says:

          in some respects you are more correct Macd though

          officially under the hood the question is more accurately described as:

          “What is the IP Address (A Record) for domain techzim.co.zw”

  3. Magneto says:

    These Public DNSs will certainly improve speeds when resolving local (Africa) addresses. I wonder whether it remains true for International domains.
    But a piece of advice to Internet Users is that it never is advisable to configure Google DNSs as you will add an unnecessary 200ms delay to your queries each time you try to access any site including local sites.

    1. Anthony Somerset says:

      remember also that this is per domain too, so if a site has content being served from multiple domains, this multiplies!

    2. Evans says:

      Its not like the computer will go through all the alternate DNS servers …..

  4. Anonymous says:

    can you update us on the state of internet packages currently speed price etc

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