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By Cheryl Kahla

Content Strategist

From IPv4 to IPv6: Africa at risk of ‘being cut off from the world’

IPv4 addresses - the building blocks of the Internet - have been exhausted and time is running out for Africa to catch up with the solution.

Africa and other developing countries around the world face a dilemma – they are running out of IPv4 addresses, but the adoption rate of IPv6 is lower than the global average. 

What does this mean?

Glad you asked. First, let’s get the definitions out of the way.

What is IPv4?

Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is a pretty big deal.

It was created by SATNET in 1982 and deployed on 1 January 1983. Even to this day, it still routes most of the world’s internet traffic. 

So what’s the problem, then? 

Well, it was created to only handle 4.3 billion addresses. At the time, no one believed that figure would ever be breached. 

And while IPv4 contributed to the development of the Internet as we know it today, those billions of  addresses are going to be used up soon.

The world’s population is almost at 8 billion, and people connect to the internet from multiple devices; 4.3 billion is nowhere near enough. 

To catch up with the global digital economy, a new-generation digital infrastructure is needed and that’s where IPv6 comes in. 

Unfortunately, the adoption rate of IPv6 in Africa is only 5%, whereas the global average was 40% as of October 2022. 

What is IPv6?

It’s a comprehensive technical system to improve IP network capabilities across six dimensions, said Ryan Zhao, CTO of the Middle East and Africa region of Huawei’s Data Communication Product Line.

These six dimensions are: 

  • Ultra-high bandwidth
  • Ubiquitous connectivity
  • Security
  • Automation
  • Determnistic quality
  • Low latency

Not only will IPv6 solve the IPv4 shortage, it will also “release the potential of the Internet and bring significant social and economic values, especially in technology innovations and network security”. 

Another benefit is improved security as IPv6 supports authentication and encryption at the network layer.

This, in turn, provides higher protection against cybersecurity threats such as broadcast storms, fragment attacks and scanning attacks. 

Ten years of progress

Since World IPv6 Day in 2011, approximately 40% of the internet have adopted the new protocol.

The first players to adopt the change was Netflix, Facebook and Akamai in 2012, followed by Apple four years later, requiring iOS App Store apps to support IPv6-only networks. 

In 2017, Facebook built new IPv6-only data clusters and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced its ability to create an IPv6-onlly architecture on AWS. 

Africa is falling behind

As of Ocotber 2022, India had the highest adoption rate (70%), followed by Belgium (66%) and the United States (53%). 

African countries have an adoption rate of 5%… If the process isn’t sped up, Africa would lose any type of digital competitiveness. 

We, therefore, have a lot of work to do and a new strategy is needed to involve African governments and bring the continent into the digital economy. 

This is a vital step because the digital economy is growing faster than GDP – 7.9% growth compared to 3.2% in developing countries, with an average GDP growth of 2.3% globally, while the digital economy expanded by 4.4%. 

To speed up the process, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), along with the African Union (AU) and Huawei released the ‘Africa IPv6 Development White Paper’ at the Broadband Africa Forum held at AfricaCom 2022 on Monday, 7 November. 

IPv6 White Paper

The white paper provides guidance and reference for IPv6 technology innovation and development to accelerate the construction of a digital network infrastructure and promote the development of the digital economy.

Anderson Amlamba, director of the AU’s Management Information System, said the deployment of IPv6 in Africa “allows for innovation and lot more technology-driven development”. 

Photo: Supplied

“The value chain, including the content and devices, is ready, but the part that is missing is the network.”

Another drawback is bureaucratic red tape slowing the process down. 

Anderson said the only way to accelerate the deployment of IPv6 in Africa, would be for governments across the continent to do their part. 

What governments must do

Strategic plans and policies must be formulated to promote IPv6, construction of the ecosystem and talent cultivation. 

Governments would need to set up IPv6 organisations and join international industry alliances. They would also need to drive IPv6 awareness and include training in educational curriculums. 

During the policy design phase, goverments must create high-level national strategies and set up compliance goals for service providers and networks. 

Last but not least is the Policy Enforcement stage, during which goverments must enforce the newly-built networks, allow for national funds for broadband connectivity, and enforce the requirements for new devices in the market. 

“IPv6 must be treated as a matter of urgency,” said Amlamba. “Otherwise, we run the risk of being cut off from the world.”

For the betterment of Africa

Not only will the deployment of IPv6 bring Africa into the digital economy, it will also transform the lives of those living in Africa. 

It is therefore, according to John Omo, the secretary-general of the ATU, “one of the most pressing needs facing the continent”.

Photo: Supplied

“Because of historic advantages, the world has had a head start when it comes to building a digital ecosystem, and the continent needs to catch up.”

However, Zhao said IPv6 enhanced technology “is not enough on its own”. 

Role of the IP bearer

Without the IP bearer network as its cornerstone, Africa’s digital transformation would move at a snail’s pace.

In order for it to work, Zhao said the “best-experience IP networks possible” should be built “by bringing together IP-enhanced technologies, such as SuperEdge, Cloud-Network Express, Converged Backbone, and Digital Map.” 

It is with this spirit of cooperation in mind that the ATU, the AU and Huawei jointly released the Africa IPv6 Development White Paper. 

Photo: Supplied

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