Africa must be ready for IPv6
ITWeb: What is AfriNIC?
Akplogan: AfriNIC is the Internet registry for the African region. It performs a critical function in terms of Internet infrastructure, even though that is not well known by the general public. Firstly, it makes sure IP addresses are well managed and given to network operators fairly, according to need. It also manages the Internet resources for the continent, making sure they are properly managed and fairly distributed. That position gives us the privilege to see with factual data how Internet is doing in the region.
ITWeb: And how is it doing?
Akplogan: Africa's Internet penetration is at around 5%-6%. Globally, the average is around about 30%. Africa is still catching up, but compared to where we were in 2000 we've seen huge progress, as much as 1 000% in some places. We are still lagging behind, but catching up very fast. Internet is becoming an important tool in the life of everyone - whether in a developing country or not, so it's becoming vital for social and economical development.
ITWeb: Which areas are seeing the most growth currently?
Akplogan: We can say that East Africa has seen strong growth recently, particularly in the last few months, because of the landing of new fibre cable. The East African coast was for a long time the only region in Africa without fibre, but now it has access to wider bandwidth, so the end-user is able to have Internet at an affordable price compared to the access they had before, through satellite. It is definitely a hot spot in Internet development, but it still has much catching up to do with regions that have had the opportunity for a while.
ITWeb: We've been hearing a lot about IPv4 addresses running out and a needed change over to Ipv6 recently. Please explain the problem in layman's terms?
Akplogan: IP addresses are critical elements for the Internet. If you connect any equipment to the Internet, that equipment should have an IP address. These IPs are assigned in a very unique manner to all equipment on the Internet. IPv4 - which stands for IP version 4 - is the current version of the Internet. It is a set of numbers designed many years ago, which gives about 4 billion possibilities for IP addresses in total. They didn't think the Internet would grow beyond that. What has happened, unfortunately, today - unfortunately for IPv4 but fortunate in that the Internet is growing - is that we are running out of those numbers, which means there are no addresses to connect more equipment. So if we continue as we are, people will no longer be able to connect new equipment to the Internet. So what the engineers did more than 10 years ago was define a new version (IPv6), which gives a wider range of numbers, so when the old version is exhausted, the new version can take over and allow new customers to connect new equipment.
You are hearing about the exhaustion now because we are down to the last few addresses, they are likely to run out in the first quarter of next year. This will impact the end-user because if your operators or Internet service providers (ISPs) are not ready to deploy, it will be difficult for them to connect you to the Internet. In simple terms, it is a matter of ensuring and safeguarding the growth of the Internet.
ITWeb: What needs to be done?
Akplogan: The biggest job comes for the ISPs who provide services to end-users. They need to make sure their infrastructure is compatible with the new protocol. But the end-user has a role to play as well. The end-user has to push the provider to be ready and to ensure it can continue to provide services to them in the longer term.
In many cases, it takes planning and technical skills to make sure that network equipment is compatible with the new version of the protocol, and if not, to upgrade. Fortunately in our region much of our equipment is relatively new so we don't need to upgrade. The other aspect is the engineers have to have appropriate skills and it takes years to train people in how to transition, which is what we [AfriNIC] have been doing for a while. But now we need to take this knowledge further, to end-users and decision-makers, so end-users are aware of the situation and managers realise that their business will be impacted by their capacity to connect.
We are trying our best, we have conducted our training all over the continent and I'd say we have up to now trained over a thousand engineers, but we need to get the attention of the decision-makers in government as well. They need to lead the transition and make sure that the operators, which generate business in their country, are safe. They have to understand the challenge and importance of the changeover and we are trying to increase that awareness.
ITWeb: What are the consequences if we do not change over?
If we do not change over [to IPv6], we will be cut off from rest of the world.Adiel A Akplogan, CEO, AfriNIC
Akplogan: If we do not change over, we will be cut off from rest of the world and our Internet will not grow any more. Working with outdated protocol will cost us more to connect, and for equipment (as it will be difficult to source) and the region will function as an island. It will be a net isolated from rest of the world.
ITWeb: Do you think we will make it in time?
Akplogan: We have no choice but to be ready. The Internet is a global medium now and no region or country can afford to cut themselves off. It might take more effort, which is what AfriNIC is trying to do, but we are positive that we will be able to do that, and at the same time use that opportunity for innovation. Our region may be late, but that means it has the opportunity to innovate where others haven't.
I am a positive person. I believe a lot of progress has been made. When we started the IPv6 initiative four years ago, there were only two regions on the continent experimenting with IPv6, now there are over 120, which is progress. Right now, 6.2% of Africa is ready and the average of the world is 7.6%. Africa is doing better by proportion of network readiness than North America, for instance. Which shows it's not over-complicated, not something we can't do. We can do it. Our goal, of course, is to say 90% of the region is ready, but things are moving slowly. Though, for once in our region we can say we are playing on the same ground as everybody.