Mobile Internet take-up is speeding the take-up of IPv6 in Africa

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A few years ago Africa’s new Internet Numbers Registry, AfriNIC looked more of a dream and a prayer than a reality. But the take-up of IPv4 Internet addresses, which has almost reached 85% of those allocated, has shown that it can do its job and do it well. It’s now experiencing a second wave of growth as mobile companies buy IPv6 addresses to keep up with the expansion of mobile data services. Russell Southwood spoke to AfriNIC’s CEO Adiel Akplogan about what it all means.

The process of preparing for the transition to IPv6 started in December 2005 when AfriNIC ran its first training course on the subject as part of its annual meeting. Back then, its adoption may have seemed less pressing and indeed maybe slightly irrelevant for Africa. But the dramatic take-up of AfriNIC’s IPv4 allocation has made this “it’s not for Africa” position dangerously outdated.

Although AfriNIC’s latest study predicts that IPv4 addresses will run out in 2012, the pressure to consider IPv6 addresses as an alternative will grow stronger as time goes by. For since AfriNIC started, there has been a 100% growth in IPv4 allocations and this has increased dramatically again with the entry of 3G mobile data services.

Overall, AfriNIC has allocated 16 million addresses, which means that somewhere out there on the continent there are 16 million devices that need an IP address to operate. These could be anything from a PC to a printer or a mobile phone. Last year it allocated 5 million addresses and a significant proportion of these were from mobile operators moving from private to public IPv4 addresses to meet data service demand.

In three years time, it projects that the number of addresses allocated will have doubled to approximately 32 million. The tantalising but slightly elusive calculation is to wonder how many devices/addresses there are on average per person because out of that guesstimate it would be possible to say roughly how many people had access to an Internet ready device of some sort.

In 2005 there were only four allocations of IPv6 addresses but now there are nearly 60 allocations so the transition point may well get closer as mobile companies transition first to IPv4 addresses (exhausting the existing allocation more quickly than the 2012 prediction) and switch to IPv6. As Adiel Akplogan notes:” This runs to billions of addresses.” AfriNIC is looking to make sure that IPv6 addresses are deployed in each African country.

So what’s so good about IPv6? The cynics always believe that upgrades simply fiddle with what was once perfectly adequate and need whole new generations of fiddling to get them right. Akplogan says this will not be the case as IPv4 has drawn heavily on the experience of IPv4 and it contains features that are much easier to access, things that existed in IPv4 but which were not really necessarily widely used.

And those features? Akplogan said:”Security is embedded in IPv6 and it’s possible to encrypt communications and there will be the development of apps around that as it will be possible to safely encypt on the fly.”

But the key draw in terms of how Africa’s Internet markets are developing is IPv6 also has mobility embedded in it:”We’ll reach a point where IP addresses will become our identity. You can reach someone on any device on the same IP addresses.”

“A number of organisations have recognized that these advantages are relevant to Africa and have imposed a rule that all new equipment is IPv6-ready.”