Recently on Social Media and tech-oriented mailing-lists, there has been lots of debate following a statement on the National TV by the Minister of ICT in Mauritius, Mr Tassaragen Chelumbrum Pillay, in which he said that the IPv4 addresses are exhausting and thus we need to move to IPv6. Well, for non-technical people out there, this can sound a little alien-language. The purpose of this article is to try to explain in simplest terms, the IP addressing system, IPv4, IPv6, how to transition effectively from IPv4 to IPv6 and consumer concerns about same. For the writing of this article, I asked my friend, Logan to help me. Why Logan? Well, Logan has Operational Experience in IPv6 with his employer, AFRINIC deploying IPv6 networks in Africa, plus Logan is currently in deep IPv6 research and has even brought forward some security fixes for a few platforms. He is willing to help the Government of Mauritius with his knowledge and expertise. “I would like to help my country, Mauritius, to do the jump to IPv6 in a cost-effective, highly secure, reliable way while conforming to international standards of the IETF…” – to quote some of Logan’s words.
To begin with, it is paramount to understand some basic concepts about networking. Computers communicate with each other using protocols among which is the TCP/IP protocol. The IP part of it, ensures that each computer has a unique computer-to-computer-understandable number. Know that, Computer A cannot communicate with Computer B directly by using the computer name; an address is needed, and that address is called the IP Address or Internet Protocol Address. So, Computer A will have, say, the IP 10.10.10.1 on the network and Computer B will have 10.10.10.2 and they will be communicating using same. [Computer A: Send packet X to 10.10.10.2 — Computer B will receive it.]
This IP address is given to your device on your home network by your router, and over the Internet by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) through its regional Internet Registries; AFRIcan Network Information Center (AFRINIC), American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordication Center (RIPE NCC), Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Center (LACNIC) and Asia-Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC). Each region of the world is given a specific block (set) of addresses to use, and at country-level, the ISPs (Mauritius Telecom, EMTEL, etc..) are given their own IP Address blocks.
The point here is that, devices on a network communicate using only those IP Addresses same as you must use telephone numbers to call you family or friend but not his name (you cannot dial his name directly).
So using the analogy of phone numbers, we can now come to the allocation problem. Remember when two years ago, there was a decision by the government to add 5 at the start of phone numbers due to the exhaustion of phone numbers, and the start of new series (using 8XX); well it is the same for IP Addresses. The number of IP Addresses available for a certain network is known as the Address Pool, and the current pool being used (IPv4 – Internet Protocol Version 4) has 4.3 Billion addresses – Each region has a share of it. So, with the increasing number of devices connected to the network (Here, Internet) at the same time, the IP addresses will soon be exhausted. Currently, AFRINIC has around 48 Million addresses left, ARIN 9 Million addresses left, Latin America 3 Million addresses left, Europe 16 Million addresses left and APNIC 13 Million left. The African region has the largest number of free addresses because of the relatively low development and growth of Internet. It is believed that the number of free addresses will suffice for only around 3 years before experiencing lack of addresses. Getting back to what the Minister said, that IPv4 provided around 4 billions addresses and the world population is around 7 billions, and thus we will soon be of shortage in terms of addresses; this holds when looking at it from a global perspective, but the fact that each region has its own address block and growth of the sector is not uniform, means that all regions will not be saturated at the same time – refer to figures mentioned above.
Well, the solution to IPv4 addresses exhaustion, as stipulated by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is IPv6 having 3.4 x 1038 addresses, i.e around 7.9 x 1028 times more addresses than IPv4. The reason to that is that IPv4 using 32-bit addresses, providing 232 combinations; 4,294,967,296 addresses while IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, providing 2128 combinations; 3.402823669 and 38 zeros (x 1038) addresses. Typical structure of IPv4 addresses is 192.168.1.24 , and that of IPv6; 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334 (which can be abbreviated according to conventions).
Futhermore, IPv6 has the following advantages compared to IPv4:
- Larger Address Pool
- Simplified network configuration
- More secure infrastructure
- No need for DHCP, the client itself produces its IPv6 address
- Less Network Address Latency; it takes less time for processing and thus better latency
But, moving from IPv4 to IPv6 is not that simple.
IPv4 to IPv6 Transition
Switching from IPv4 to IPv6 provides several advantages; more-secure, more-flexible and simplified processing by routers to mention only a few of the non-technical advantages. Lets get back to the telephone numbers analogy to better understand this part. Formerly, we used 7-digits phone numbers, and then moved to 8 digits. Imagine if mobile phones could only accept 7 digits, or cell-phone tower systems could only accept only 7 digits; that would make the use of the 8 digits difficult. We could have been using 8 digits (we write the eight-digits), the system changes it to 7 digits and back to eight digits at the other mobile phone. But this is time and processing power exhausting. The most efficient way, is to make all systems work with the 8-digit system natively.
Same applies for IPv6, not all devices are IPv6-ready. In terms of Operating-Systems, the recent ones are IPv6 ready, but not all routers, modems or switches are compatible with IPv6. Same have to be thoroughly tested for compatibility before being used.
Now, to move to IPv6, there are several mechanisms that can be used, among which are 4in6, 6in4, DSLite, 6RD and others. Basically, to be able to match with current IPv4 systems, the IPv6 address is encapsulated in IPv4 headers and moved along IPv4-enabled infrastructures and changes to IPv6 in IPv6 compatible systems. This can be a good method for small networks that does not require much low-latencies, but for country-wide networks or larger regions, the best solution lies in a Dual-Stack; where the device gets both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses natively, no translation, no encapsulation. This will allow the device to be connect to both, IPv4 only networks, IPv6 only networks or both, in the most latencyless and efficient way – it’s like travelling with both EURO and US Dollars in your pocket and using one of them according to the currency accepted by the merchant without having to exchange to-and-fro. Speaking of infrastructures, major changes need not to be applied to the Network Backbone of the country itself, but non IPv6-ready parts need to be upgraded or replaced including but not limited to modems and IPTV boxes given to customers.
Up-to-now, Mauritius-Telecom offers IPv6 to business customers but residential customers does not get IPv6 addresses even from other ISPs. But, EMTEL has, according to its website and a document on the ICTA website, an IPv6-transition mechanism in place and has been working on the IPv6 project since 2010. EMTEL also has an IPv6-ready logo on its website. Also, the website of ICTA (www.icta.mu) is IPv6.
A report published by Eric Vyncke, an Engineer at CISCO showed the IPv6 deployment around the world. Here is the link to page for Mauritius: https://www.vyncke.org/ipv6status/detailed.php?country=mu
How to proceed?
First, a through-testing of devices used on the Mauritian territory must be made to ensure IPv6-compatibility, identify devices that need to be upgraded and those that need to be replaced. Several test protocols are available (TAHI test suites, etc..).
Next, response from ISPs and private sector to move to IPv6 and there plans (if any) to do same must be analysed and streamlined to be the most cost-effective, efficient and reliable possible.
Third, training of local talents to ensure the project is handled properly, during and after the deployment of IPv6 in Mauritius. It is good to have foreign expertise on those subjects, but if local talent is available (fact!) or can be sought/trained, why pay huge sums to foreign expertise to maintain and troubleshoot the system post-deployment? But, some training courses of IPv6 has already been carried out in Mauritius.
Forth, ensure that products and end user devices being sold on the market or being brought to Mauritius for use is IPv6-compatible.
Implementing IPv6 in Mauritius is a really good idea to provide a better service and connectivity to both business and normal users. But should it be implemented, the best of techniques and mechanisms should be used, as you do not switch IP infrastructures each year! You are implementing for 10-20 years! Do it well or leave it! Romania has deployed dual-stack full IPv6 native addresses on its infrastructure. We hope that Mauritius will be doing great in that field too. And also.. please use local talents.. we spend too much on foreign expertise while the locals can do the same job or even better.
No political intent.
IT Guys will hate me for this article; sorry guys for not being so technical. Its for general audience.