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Opportunities and Challenges for Internet Protocol Version 6 Adoption in Jamaica and the Caribbean
Ms. Kadian Davis
Head of Department – Information Technology
University College of the Caribbean – Jamaica
The Internet is a robust, dynamic and geographically diverse medium that has paved the way for increased communication and socio-economic growth particularly in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. Internet Protocol (IP) is a set of technical standards defining how data is sent from one computer to another over interconnected networks. Megan Kruse, Public Relations Officer at the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) asserts, “the IP addressing system is one of the critical underpinnings of the Internet.” IP addresses are unique numbers that allow Internet enabled devices such as computers, servers, mobile phones, televisions, cars, cameras, printers and sensors to communicate with each other. For example, when you seek information using www.google.com, the domain name system translates this domain name into its unique IP address i.e., 22.214.171.124.
IPv4 is well entrenched and used by every Internet Service Provider (ISP) and hosting company to connect customers to the Internet. However, there are just over four (4) billion unique IPv4 address spaces available. The continued rapid exponential growth of the Internet has led to the significant depletion of the finite pool of available unallocated IPv4 address spaces. Hence, the waiting season has expired and Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is a necessity for the continued expansion of the Internet.
IPv6 made its groundbreaking introduction in 1999, with the main goal of increasing the number of IP addresses available. This dream was realized as IPv6 has a 128-bit address space, which is 340 undecillion addresses when compared to IPv4’s 32-bit address space of only four billion addresses. Therefore, it is expected that IPv6 should provide address spaces for a very long time. It is important to note that IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4 and hence; the two must run concurrently for a number of years before shifting to an “IPv6 only” Internet. Therefore, positioning users into a “dual-stacked” environment (i.e., it implements IPv4 and IPv6 protocol stacks independently or in hybrid form) means that users can reach all content, whether it is IPv4 or IPv6. This creates an opportunity for organizations to gain IPv6 experience by evaluating the potential benefits of IPv6 as well as mitigating the risks associated with the protocol. A growing portion of the internet is being deployed as “IPv6 only”. This will continue to grow and will likely surpass the “IPv4 only” internet in less than 5 years.
Despite the imminent depletion of IPv4 address spaces, IPv6 adoption in the Caribbean has been relatively slow and there are seemingly no definitive plans or timelines for its migration. The Internet Society (ISOC) emphasizes that “the piecemeal transition to IPv6 could threaten the smooth function of the Internet to the detriment of all.” This can be attributed to the following factors: ignorance of the potential benefits of adding IPv6 to existing IPv4 capabilities, cost and complexities for ISPs/network providers and lacklustre governmental ICT policies. Nevertheless, IPv6 adoption unlocks a wealth of possibilities for all Internet stakeholders. In so doing, it creates a more flexible platform for the delivery of new products and services and consequently; encourages innovation. Below is a list of compelling arguments for IPv6 migration, which could be considered by the developing states of the Caribbean.
Recently, I had the opportunity of interviewing Mr. Owen Delong, IPv6 Evangelist – Hurricane Electric, the world’s largest IPv6-native Internet backbone and co-location provider, regarding the associated challenges with IPv6 adoption. Hurricane Electric employs a resilient fibre-optic topology and has no less than four redundant paths crossing North America, two separate paths between the United States and Europe, and rings in Europe and Asia. Mr. Delong alluded to the following points.
Specific to developing countries Amos Mpungu, member of the Diplo Internet Governance Community, suggests that the lack of an institutional framework for IPv6 transition may retard its transition. I certainly support this claim as I believe that key stakeholders and policy makers should be involved in drafting legislations to support IPv6 adoption. Furthermore, inadequate resources such as available capital, human resources and equipment may impede the smooth transition of IPv6. However, to mitigate against the associated challenges faced within the developing world, international organizations such as ISOC, ARIN and ITU through several capacity building initiatives are offering training, capital and personnel for this cause.
Additionally, IPv6-related challenges can be avoided by incrementally incorporating the protocol into ongoing business plans. This facilitates the luxury of deploying IPv6 at a controlled pace and minimizes the probability of any business risks occurring during IPv4 run-out and IPv6 migration. Additionally, the methodological integration of IPv6 ensures that hardware, services, and applications continue to operate smoothly; and allows for the ability to benefit from the increased addressing space and all the innovation and growth that will follow.
ARIN outlines various practical steps to take to prepare organizations for IPv6 transition.
In conclusion, IPv6 adoption presents a number of opportunities and challenges for the Caribbean region. These challenges however can be allayed through the continued involvement of critical stakeholders such as Governments, ISPs, hardware manufacturers, users and content providers to develop fair and equitable policies for the management and allocation of IPv6 address spaces. Altogether, to harness the opportunities for innovation and national competiveness in Jamaica, a great deal needs to be done to prepare our networks, hardware and citizens for IPv6 adoption.