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Opportunities and Challenges for Internet Protocol Version 6 Adoption in Jamaica and the Caribbean

Opportunities and Challenges for Internet Protocol Version 6 Adoption in Jamaica and the Caribbean

Ms. Kadian Davis

Head of DepartmentInformation Technology

University College of the CaribbeanJamaica


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., 

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.


  • According to the Internet World Stats Usage and Population Statistics report, the Internet   penetration rate in the Caribbean is 28.7% with Jamaica having a penetration rate of 23.8%. IPv6 deployment is vital in bridging the digital divide. In Jamaica, mobile/wireless Internet is growing at a much faster rate than fixed networks. Thus, the Digital Divide may be reduced by extending these networks through the supply of increased address spaces via IPv6.
  • According to Houlin Zhao, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “IPv6 is emerging as the preferred platform and is a core component of the wireless Internet architecture (3G & Beyond 3G).”  For example, IPv6 provides opportunities for mobile health solutions through diagnostics, appointment scheduling, reminders and public health alerts. Consequently, improving chronic disease management and reducing the cost of health care.
  • IPv6 is a key enabler of smart grid technologies, intelligent buildings and sensor networks. Smart grid technologies offer a wide array of benefits such as increasing security and resiliency, reducing energy consumption and increasing reliability of the energy system through improved monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. 
  • By advocating the migration of IPv6, Governments can raise awareness about the continuity of online governmental services ranging from judicial, emergency services, and tax collection to voting services so that they can respond to a plethora of natural/man-made disasters and create viable economic solutions. Moreover, IPv6 could open numerous opportunities for showcasing the rich and diverse cultural content of the Caribbean.
  • Exploring the possibility presented by IPv6’s unlimited address space facilitates organizations having the competitive advantage while others are scrambling to play “catch-up”. Not having to scuttle to deploy IPv6 will result in reduced costs because organizations will not have to pay additional shipping cost for equipment and the market will bear consultancy prices. Additionally, companies will not face the costs associated with prolonged outages caused by hurried implementations. Faults can be tested and evaluated more thoroughly before being deployed in the production environment.

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.

  • Hardware – In some cases, hardware needs to be upgraded. This can be especially onerous in the case of certain types of specialty hardware and/or embedded systems that have not been maintained in many years and simply continue to function.
  •  Software – similar challenges to hardware but can be even more difficult as in some cases, there are applications which were developed internally by people that have long-since left the organization and nobody dares touch the code (if they even know where the source is).
  • Inertia – people are resistant to change for a variety of reasons:
  1. Management can often have difficulty seeing a business case for IPv6. To a short-sighted   manager, IPv6 looks like an enormous cost with little or no revenue behind it.
  2. IPv6 is not urgent and there is no “deadline”. Many players are adopting a “wait and see approach”. However, IPv6 urgency is not going to arrive slowly, but, instead will go from being an indeterminate future to a past need overnight.
  3. Mr. Delong stated, “I have encountered many IT professionals that are hesitant to learn IPv6 for a variety of reasons. These, especially among IT Managers near retirement age can be especially obstructive. Their reasons include; IPv6 can wait until after I retire, fear that their IPv4 knowledge will become worthless, fear of the IPv6 learning curve and the overwhelming size of the project. If one attempts to look at IPv6 transition of an enterprise all at once then the sheer scale of the project can be daunting to the point of organizational paralysis.”
  4. The dogma of the NAT (network address translation). Mr. Delong exclaimed; “We literally have an entire generation of enterprise administrators, network engineers, and systems administrators that have never known the internet without NAT. There is a widely held misperception that NAT somehow increases security, especially throughout the enterprise world. This makes IPv6 scary because it does not have NAT. It is very difficult to convey widely enough that NAT is not necessary to achieve the security goals of the enterprise.”


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.

  • Replace outdated equipment and software with IPv6-ready devices and applications.
  • Encourage vendors to support IPv6.
  • Send IT staff to IPv6 training seminars and encourage them to read forums like the ARIN IPv6 Wiki, Hurricane Electric’s IPv6 Certification Program and the Internet Society IPv6 Wiki or to get involved in organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to learn from other engineers already deploying IPv6 in their networks.
  • Talk to ISPs about getting IPv6 service. If they cannot provide such service, experiment with tunneling IPv6 over IPv4.

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.

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