Are there any IPv6 addresses around here? Organisers prepare for the Arab IGF (Picture: Arab IGF)
This week, an exciting event took place – the first regional Internet Governance Forum for the Arab region took place. It brought together 300 participants from 16 countries.
On the second day, a debate took place on Critical Internet Resources. An outsider might have expected the discussions to focus primarily on ICANN, and the role of the US government. It is a well-worn contentious issue, and voices from the Arab region over the years have been some of the most strident in their opposition to the current set-up. Sure, there was a bit of ICANN-bashing at the end, but it felt like it was mainly for form’s sake, and even on that issue a range of views were expressed by speakers from the region.
Instead, the debate that unfolded focused on more practical issues including deployment of IPv6 in the region.
Well, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are the backbone of what makes the Internet the Internet. They are the numbers that identify every computer, device, sensor, phone, iPad, fridge, whatever to the network. If the world runs out of IP addresses, then no more devices can be connected to the network. So, if you’re already connected, you’re OK. But when you want a new connection, to plug in a new device, or there’s some innovation you want to benefit from… well, too bad.
So, the bad news is that, looking at the version of IP addresses that the Internet we know is built on, IP version 4, there are not enough addresses to go around. For about a decade, there have been doomy warnings that IPv4 is going to run out. And now, it’s not something that’s going to happen in the future. It has happened. A couple of months ago, RIPE, the organisation that allocates IP addresses for the Europe and Middle East, announced that it had given away its last lot of IPv4 addresses. That’s all folks.
The good news is that there has been a replacement protocol around for years. It’s called IP version 6, and there are so many billions of billions of addresses available, that it’s hard to comprehend just how many there are.
The truly scary news is that despite knowing that IPv4 is running out, widespread availability of IPv6 addresses and IPv6 enabled devices, people are not deploying the new protocol.
For example, on any measure you care to adopt, the UK is behind on adoption and deployment of IPv6. If you look around the world, the countries that are ahead of the curve in deploying the new protocol have one thing in common: the government has taken an active role in fostering adoption. This is an uncomfortable truth for many, including me, who advocate a hands-off approach to regulating the Internet, but there it is.
Jordan pointed to success in IPv6 implementation, following government leadership. Describing how Internet Service Providers were at first uninterested in adoption. The reasons are familiar: customers are not demanding it, ISPs cannot charge a premium for it, and while the addresses themselves are freely available, deployment itself is complex, costly and generally a nightmare. A speaker from the Lebanese government described how their ISPs are now IPv6 ready, following multistakeholder dialogue to encourage adoption. A speaker from Egypt’s NTRA, the telecoms regulator, highlighted the positive impact that governments can have by adopting IPv6 themselves, and by requiring IPv6 in their procurement programs. She pointed out that “IPv6 readiness” is relatively easy for suppliers to show – and governments need to be more in touch with technical requirements in their procurement programs, to ensure that they are asking for, and getting, deployment, not just readiness. Another speaker pointed out that countries whose networks are newer (eg in the Arab region) may have a smoother time deploying IPv6 than in the US and Europe, as they won’t have so many legacy systems to transition.
As Tarek Kamel, former IT Minister in Egypt, now of ICANN said in his opening address, there is a need for dialogue on the best way forward on Critical Internet Resources. That dialogue can be on the macro level concerning global governance, or at the national level, in deployment of critical resources – to enable the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to do their stuff.
Emily Taylor is the CEO of Oxford Information Labs. She is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and is the Editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy and co-founder of ICANN accredited registrar, Oxford Information Labs.
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