Will the public ever hear (or care) about IPv6?
Imagine waking up one day in 2012 and loading your browser’s homepage only to find an “address not found” error. It would feel like the end of the world and could very well happen if servers are not properly upgraded by domain registries and educational institutions. Globally, let alone in Africa, the issue of IPv6 deployment is all but unheard of except among IT professionals and tech-savvy individuals. But, the lack of public awareness really does not matter. Simply put, computer users care more about the what rather than the how. And IP addresses most often function behind the scenes. So, IPv6 (or even IPv4) is all but esoteric to the typical web surfer or simple e-mail user. By the end of 2011, however, there may be issues regarding the transition (10% of ISPs around the world currently have no plans of implementing IPv6), and it would benefit everyone to know the basics surrounding the switch to IPv6.
Background: All devices need a unique identifier to access the Internet. Under the current assignment convention, there are a limited number of these identifiers, but there is a growing number of devices. If nothing is done, then new devices will be unable to interact with the Internet.
Problem: Expand the number of identifiers to account for the growing demand for Internet-ready devices. This is called IPv6. However, old addresses will be unable to access servers running new addresses under the new system. Similarly, new addresses will be unable to access servers running old addresses.
Solution: In the transition period, websites should run both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to account for users with old IP addresses and users with new IP addresses.
This video from APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Center) explains the concept very nicely:
AFRINIC also has tidy page explaining African IPv6 progress. In fact, Africa appears to be in just as good position as any region to adopt the new technology. A 2009 article from ComputerWorld explains why this could be the case:
Other regions have been slow to adopt IPv6 because of huge investments in legacy systems and the lack of clear business gains from adopting the new version, but many African countries have few or no such headaches. In Africa, the main reason is a lack of actual investment in technology as well as a lack of awareness from existing ISPs and other businesses in the chain.
Recently, however, there has been little data to support an IPv6 “leap frog” by African nations. The IPv6 Deployment Aggregated Status list does give information about the top 50 sites in Kenya, Tanzania, and Senegal. In fact, Kenya has multiple IPv6-enabled sites (UUNET and Equity Bank). Tanzania’s domain registrar, TZNIC, is certainly ready for the future.
Regardless of how few African domains are IPv6-ready, there is no need for concern. After all, most of the world is still not ready for IPv6 and the fact that, in general, Africa is on par with these players speaks well to the continent’s tech prospects.