Leading Internet Service Provider Liquid Telecom Kenya is rolling out the new Internet Protocol version six (IPv6) addresses to all its customers in Kenya, as it warns that Africa is set to run out of the old-style IPv4 addresses in 2017, causing serious setbacks to the continent’s Internet growth and security.
Africa is the last continent with available IPv4 addresses, but it is now also running short. Yet the uptake of the new IPv6 addresses is proving so slow in Africa that Liquid Telecom’s roll out in just the first two of the 12 countries it services across Africa, being Kenya and Zimbabwe, has more than doubled the use of IPv6 across the continent.
As IPv4 addresses run out, it will become increasingly difficult and more expensive for networks to add new devices and users to their networks, as well as triggering additional Internet security issues.
“Africa’s population, and especially young population is growing fast, with Kenya expected to hit 62m people by 2030. This is then multiplied by the growing number of Internet devices we are all carrying, as phones, laptops, tablets, etc: all these devices need an IP address. If Africa mismanages the transition to the new IP addresses, it will affect the ability to add any new devices, as well as our cyber security, both of which are vital to our continent in continuing to achieve a higher level of Internet penetration, and thus prosperity,” said Ben Roberts, CEO of Liquid Telecom Kenya.
“IPv6 has been rolled out seamlessly to our home user customers and we are working with our business customers to help them exploit this technology on their office networks to better harness ICT to achieve their business goals,” he said.
Transiting to IPv6, which has been a global issue, is now well advanced in the rest of the world, following from the limitations of IPv4, designed by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn in 1981. With just 4 billion IPv4 addresses, the global growth in the number of devices saw the world start to run out of IPv4 addresses, initially in 2011, in Asia, and then in Europe in 2012, Latin America in 2014, and last year in North America.
With Africa now the only continent left with IPv4 addresses, this has raised concerns about ISPs from elsewhere in the world seeking addresses from Africa. However, the galloping growth in Internet use in Africa itself is anyway rapidly moving the continent to the point of running out of the current IP version 4 Internet addresses.
“With IPv6 there are limitless IP addresses, at 2 to the power of 128 addresses (340 trillion trillion trillion): that is more addresses than there are cells in every human body on the planet,” said Liquid Telecom Group Head of IP strategy Andrew Alston. Yet, Africa now faces an impending shortage of IP addresses, as Internet providers prove slow to roll out IPv6.
“We are almost eating into the last block of 16 million addresses of the IPv4 space that the regional internet registry for Africa, (AFRINIC) has available. This means we are soon entering a new phase where getting IPv4 addresses will become far more difficult and eventually impossible – there won’t be any more to give. So it is important that ISPs start to deploy IPv6,” said Alston.
AfriNIC has been working with governments, universities and corporations to drive up the rate of deployment, with the allocation of Ipv6 addresses to providers proceeding as expected, but few providers yet deploying them.
IPv6 will also enable whole new ranges of technology by facilitating the Internet of Things with end-to-end connections for devices. “There will be even more connected devices than people in years to come, IPv6 will also allow us to explore new and unimaginable technologies interconnecting everything from kitchen appliances to automobiles,” said Alston.