Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 18th 2015 Contents BG16 COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JUNE 2015 • WEEK THREE
Internet users now routinely use their
connected devices to follow favorite
topics; video-conference with col-
leagues and to stay connected with
friends and family across the world.
What many users may not know,
however, is that every new device
that connects to the Internet needs
its own unique Internet number, known as
an Internet Protocol (IP) address. What fewer
know is that the Internet is in the midst of
a major transition to a new version of IP
addresses known as IPv6.
IPv4: A victim of its success
Started as an experiment in the 1970s, the
Internet Protocol (IP) has been a phenomenal
success. The protocol defines the numeric
codes that identify devices and destinations
for the Internet. It underpins the global Inter-
net, connecting billions of users and devices
and enabling the social and economic power
of the World Wide Web.
IP's utility and ubiquity have together led
to the convergence a range of technologies,
such as Voice-over-IP (VoIP), that have trans-
formed how we relate, communicate and con-
duct business. But its global success has cre-
ated a global challenge.
There are a finite number of IP addresses.
The current system, known as IPv4, only has
4.3 billion combinations to go around. It
sounded like an inexhaustible supply when
the Internet began. Not any more. Thanks to
the extraordinary growth of the Internet, we
are now almost all out of IPv4 addresses.
Today, barely 3.4 million addresses are left.
The American Registry of Internet Numbers
(ARIN) expects that all remaining IP addresses
for North America and the parts of the
Caribbean they serve will be claimed before
the end of this year. Europe ran out in 2012
and Asia since 2011.
IPv6: a no brainer solution, right?
Thankfully, the exhaust of IPv4 addresses
has not caught the Internet community
unawares. A replacement for IPv4, known as
IPv6, was approved in 1998 and has been
available ever since. The updated version
launched with 340 undecillion addresses---
that's 340 trillion trillion trillion---and can
comprehensively addresses the shortage.
So you'd think, "problem solved" and mov-
ing to IPv6 would be a no-brainer, right?
Well, not exactly.
As with any large-scaled systems transition,
there are always groups that cling as long as
possible to legacy systems, either out of lazi-
ness or lack of economic incentive, or both.
Just ask Microsoft about its efforts to migrate
users off of its Windows XP operating sys-
Transitioning the range of systems around
the world that use IPv4 is not a straight for-
ward undertaking. The Internet is huge. The
tens of millions of routers, switches and servers
that operate behind the scenes to make it
work were mainly designed for IPv4. Upgrad-
ing infrastructure on such a massive scale
entails a significant capital investment and
Also, despite the age difference between
IPv4 and IPv6, there is little automatic network
performance or security improvements with
using IPv6. The primary benefit is really about
However, on that front there are
workarounds to extend the life of IPv4 systems.
For example, Network Address Translation,
commonly referred to as NAT, allows for mul-
tiple devices to share a single public IP.
Still, network engineers know such
workarounds are only temporary fixes. The
transition to IPv6 is inevitable. The challenge
is that there is just no sufficiently compelling
business argument to make the transition
urgent or immediate.
Microsoft, for example, spent $7.5 million
in 2011 buying 666,624 IPv4 addresses and
effectively deferring its need to invest in tran-
sitioning its extensive network to IPv6.
Growing IPv6 adoption
There is some good news though. The Inter-
net Society (ISOC) reported that more and
more IPv6 being deployed in networks around
the world, and those networks are seeing a
lot of IPv6 traffic. Some of the world's most
popular websites---Google, YouTube, Yahoo!,
and Wikipedia---have been using IPv6 for
quite some time now.
Meanwhile, other major companies have
been diligently preparing their networks for
IPv6. Facebook, for example, announced that
it has switched 90 percent of its network to
IPv6. At this year's Apple developer confer-
ence, Apple announced that the AppStore
would require IPv6 support for all iOS 9 apps.
Slow Caribbean adoption
Where does this all leave the Caribbean?
The major holders of IPv4 addresses in the
Caribbean are the Internet Service Providers
and network operators, like Cable and Wireless
and Digicel. They are reported to have suf-
ficient IPv4 resources to take care of current
regional demand. As a consequence, IPv6
support does not feature high on the priority
list. This may soon change.
"In the coming weeks, for the first time in
ARIN's history, an organisation will come to
us to request IPv4 address space and qualify,
but we won't have any in our inventory to
fulfill the request," said Mark Kosters, ARIN's
CTO, recently at a gathering of the Caribbean
Network Operators Group (CaribNOG).
Organisations such as CaribNOG, the
Caribbean Telecommunications Union have
been raising awareness of the need for organ-
isations and governments to transition their
networks to IPv6.
Their message is now amplified by the real-
ity of exhaustion of IPv4 addresses and the
abundance of IPv6 address space for anyone
who needs it.
Incentives for transition
Transitioning networks in the Caribbean to
IPv6 is no longer a question of if, but when.
Even with the available inventory of IPv4
addresses in the hands of ISPs, there is need
for more. That need is being fuelled by the
region's growing appetite for and dependence
on IP-based services and connected devices.
The technical expertise to meet that need
exists in the region. There is also ample support
is available from regional and international
Internet organisations such CaribNOG, ARIN,
LACNIC, ISOC and PCH to help organisations
plan and implement the transition.
What is missing is appropriate incentives
and an unequivocal commitment by network
operators across the region to make the invest-
ment to upgrade their networks to support
The time is now for national governments
to provide regulatory and economic incentives
to encourage IPv6 adoption. 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. Standards agencies can
also require IPv6 compatibility in computing
equipment procurement procedures.
The private sector should not wait for gov-
ernment or regulatory prodding though. Any-
one responsible for managing an IP-based
network should adopt IPv6 priority as if the
future of their networks depended on it,
because it does.
Securing IP addresses stability is key to safe-
guarding the bourgeoning Caribbean digital
economy. With IPv4 coming to an end and
Internet growth continuing to rise, there is no
time like the present to make the shift to IPv6.
It's simply too important an issue to leave
Bevil Wooding is an Internet Strategist
for Packet Clearing House (PCH), a US-
based non-profit research organisation. He
is also a founding member of the Caribbean
Network Operators Group. Follow on Twitter:
Transitioning to IPv6
Adoption of new Internet standard needed for Caribbean IP address security
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