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Caribbean prepares for Soft Landing
That’s the harmless-sounding code name being used in Latin America and the Caribbean for an operation set to take effect as soon as the number of unallocated Internet Protocol (IP) addresses falls beneath two million.
IP addresses are foundational to the Internet’s existence. The Internet works because every device that goes online is assigned a unique address, much in the same way that a person has a passport, a car has a license plate, or a telephone has a number. An IP address is a form of unique identification on the global network.
The system by which those addresses are assigned is Internet Protocol Version 4, or IPv4. The total number of available addresses in IPv4 is approximately 4.3 billion. But the pool of free addresses is now down to only some 20 million.
When the depletion of IPv4 addresses triggers the Soft Landing, requests for the allocation of IP addresses will be subject to additional restrictions.
Not everyone who needs IPv4 addresses will be guaranteed to get them.
That depletion and inevitable exhaustion is the reason for the development and deployment of IPv4’s successor protocol, IPv6.
LACNIC, one of the agencies that allocates and administers IP addresses in the Caribbean, is using the code name Soft Landing to describe the upcoming critical transition from IPv4 to IPv6.
“This is no surprise. As early as 1995, there were already concerns about the IP addresses running out, and engineers realised that something needed to be done about it,” said Carlos Martínez, LACNIC’s chief technical officer.
The creation of LACNIC and other registries was one result of the global process of administering the Internet’s limited pool of addresses that followed.
When Martínez and Ernesto Majó, LACNIC’s communications and external relations manager, spoke to the Sunday Guardian last week, the precise number of available IPv4 addresses in LACNIC’s registry, according to the live tracker on their Web site, was 20,197,888, down about one-third from 31,487,488 in late October 2013.
“Between May to the beginning of August could be the exact date when those IP addresses run out,” Martínez said.
He was projecting the timeframe for the exhaustion of the IP addresses based on a trend analysis of the rate of consumption.
“When IPv4 runs out, you eventually won’t be able to connect new devices to the Internet. It means that during the Soft Landing period, we won’t be able to satisfy all requests that people have,” he said.
Accelerating IPv6 adoption
LACNIC’s visit to T&T, from February 17 to 19 was part of the organisation’s push to accelerate IPv6 deployment in the Caribbean.
“For Internet users, (IPv6) is not a radical change in terms of how the Internet works. However, for LACNIC and the other registries, IPv6 provides a path to overcome the problems associated with the exhaustion of IP addresses,” Martínez said.
The total number of IP addresses available under the new system is two to the 128th power, he said. By one description, that order of magnitude now makes an IP address available for every grain of sand!
“More and more IPv6 addresses are being deployed every day but it will take a while before the whole Internet runs on IPv6,” Majó said.
“In Trinidad and Tobago, there is an investment that our members need to make in terms of upgrading their infrastructure equipment, changing their systems and most importantly training their human resources to be able to work with the changes in policy.”
IPv4 exhaustion and IPv6 deployment, Martínez said, will be “the overarching issues” on the agenda when LACNIC members gather in Mexico from May 4 to 9 for LACNIC21, its annual general assembly.
“There are two main issues. We want to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding what is going to happen when the free pool falls beneath the two million marker.
“The other thing is to get our members to take the recommended steps to ensure that universal IPv6 deployment is accelerated.”
Majó said there were some cultural and linguistic challenges involved in conducting the sensitisation campaign in the Caribbean sub-region.
Headquartered in Montevideo, LACNIC includes members mainly from South and Central America. Of its 3,300 members, only 70 are from the Caribbean.
“We share the Caribbean with ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, which is based in the United States,” Majó explained.
“Our Caribbean members are Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, the former Netherlands Antilles and Guyana. They are really small in terms of population and economy, as compared to, say, Brazil and Argentina.
“We are trying to work with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations, CaribNOG and other regional partners because we do recognise the need for greater outreach and communication.
“We also have created a vacancy for an external relations officer for the Caribbean,” Majó said.
“We would definitely like to see more representation from the Caribbean.”