Internet-enabled devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets each need their own Internet protocol address in order to connect to the Internet. The most common Internet addressing standard in use, IPv4, has a limit of just 4,300 million possible addresses. A study by network-equipment giant Cisco predicts that by 2016, 18.9 billion Internet-enabled devices will be online. Given the global explosion in connected devices, adopting the next-generation Internet addressing standard, known as IPv6, is an imperative. Switching to IPv6 allows the Internet to accommodate trillions of possible new addresses.
Internet growing pains
When IPv4 was introduced in 1981, in the early stages of the Internet’s development, it was thought that number of IPv4 addresses was more than adequate.
As the World Wide Web evolved and the commercial potential of the Internet became apparent, the number of new users of the Internet grew exponentially. So did the number of devices connected to the Internet. People are now attaching servers, PCs, phones, tablets, smart meters, automobiles, TVs, video game consoles, and home broadband network routers to the Internet. The engineers responsible for overseeing the Internet’s development did not take long to realise the implication. The number of IPv4 addresses would eventually be depleted. A new addressing scheme was necessary to ensure longer-term availability of addresses for devices connecting to the Internet. The IPv6 update to the addressing protocol was introduced in 1999.
Slow global IPv6 adoption
Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, as well as major Internet service providers have enabled IPv6 on their own networks to encourage broader adoption of the standard. Yet, for all of its promise, global adoption of IPv6 has been painfully slow. In terms of worldwide deployment, the new protocol is still very much in its infancy. A major reason for the slow adoption is the incompatibility of IPv6 with existing IPv4-based networks and equipment. Deploying IPv6 essentially creates a parallel, independent network. Many network operators simply cannot—or think they cannot—be bothered with the hassle and expense involved in moving to IPv6. Network administrators have also been able to delay transition to IPv6 because technology such as network address translation (NAT) lets ISPs, corporations, and even home users share a single IPv4 address among multiple devices. Deployment of IPv6 is, however, accelerating, especially in the Asia-Pacific region and some European countries. By comparison, the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean are lagging.
Global efforts to address the problem of the depleting pool of Internet numbers used to identify resources connected to the Internet have reached Caribbean shores. The imminent exhaustion of IPv4 addresses can have profoundly negative implications for Caribbean countries that aspire to use the Internet to build knowledge-based economies. Some argue that the larger carriers in the region, like Cable and Wireless and Columbus Communication, have enough unallocated IPv4 addresses for the Caribbean to not have to worry about depletion any time soon. The challenge, however, lies in the fact that Internet growth in the region continues to increase at an exponential rate. The higher we push Internet utilisation in the region, the greater overhead there is to manage that IPv4 space. As broadband, e-government, distance learning, mobile apps, and other digital content creation initiatives continue to increase, a greater demand in placed on Internet addresses. Network administrators must weigh the costs of managing legacy IPv4 systems against the cost of transition to IPv6.
Supporting the transition
Key regional organisations such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) are already championing the needed IPv6-ready networks and raising awareness among governments, policymakers, ISPs, and the business community. Meanwhile, the regional Internet community is proactively involved in a range of cooperative initiatives to raise awareness and prepare the technical infrastructure for IPv6 adoption. Bodies such as the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG) have been actively working to ensure that the region’s network administrators and technicians have access to the knowledge, training, and equipment necessary to join the IPv6 Internet. The International community is also providing strong support. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC) currently work in close partnership with the CTU and CaribNOG to provide training, advice, and technical support for the region. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Society, and the International Telecommunications Union also play significant roles in hosting workshops and seminars to raise awareness and build technical capacity in the region.
There are encouraging signs of the region’s transition to IPv6. Last March, the World IPv6 Forum welcomed Grenada as its first Caribbean country member. On the ISP front, Columbus Communications, one of the major telecom service providers in the Caribbean, has taken a refreshingly proactive approach to IPv6. Its subsidiaries in Grenada, Curacao, Jamaica and T&T all successfully participated in the 2012 World IPv6 Day. The hope is for other carriers in the region to follow Columbus’s lead in advancing IPv6 adoption. National and regional stakeholder groups must amplify efforts to support and promote awareness and educational activities. National governments should adopt regulatory and economic incentives to encourage IPv6 adoption. Standards agencies can also require IPv6 compatibility in computing equipment procurement procedures. Governments can also lead by example by officially adopting IPv6 within government agencies and requiring it of service providers who must connect to government networks. Everyone has a part to play. Securing stability of IP addresses is necessary for maintaining the sustainable, long-term development of a ubiquitous and open Internet in the Caribbean. Everyone responsible for managing an Internet-connected network should take the plunge, start planning and set a timetable to implement IPv6 as if the future of the region’s networks depended on it. The truth is: it does.
Younger consumers constantly switch sources when using media
27 times per hour: When they’re reading online articles or consuming other types of media products, people in their 20s tend to switch from source to source much more often than older people do, according to an Advertising Age report of recent research. In the study, these “digital natives” switched “media venues” about 27 times per nonworking hour, compared with just 17 times for “digital immigrants” – people who grew up reading articles on newsprint and using knobs to change channels.
© 2012 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp.
(Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)
Bevil Wooding is an Internet strategist with the US-based research firm, Packet Clearing House and the chief knowledge officer at Congress WBN, an international non-profit organisation. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding, and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwooding