NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 11 – Safaricom is looking to the future to hold its lead in the region in broadband services.
As the internet nears the end of its Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) address pool, Internet Service Providers, mobile operators and user organisations alike, are looking to make the transition to the new generation called IPv6.
These protocols provide IP addresses, the “phone numbers” for the Internet that are responsible for identifying computers and devices so that they can communicate.
Safaricom, is the first mobile operator in Africa to open up its network for IPv6 testing, having already started planning for a migration to the platform two years ago.
IPv6 is designed to solve many of the problems of IPv4, including mobility, auto-configuration, and overall extensibility and expands the address space on the Internet supporting a nearly unlimited number of devices that can be directly connected to the Internet.
Nzioka Waita Safaricom’s Director of Corporate Affairs said the company saw the need to move from the finite IPv4 platform because of the trajectory internet and technology are taking toward machine to machine communication.
“We are very keen to take ownership of that machine to machine stage within the region. So having IP addresses on the IPv6 allows us to have a really wide range of product offerings,” he said.
Inevitably it is a move Waita adds that is preparing them for the future and will allow them to diversify Safaricom’s data products to individuals and corporates.
“I think it will extend our lead not only as the provider with the largest broadband network. This sort of investment makes our business strategy future-based. We are building a network for 2015/2016. It’s not a network for here and now,” he explained.
Safaricom will be opening its service development platform to local application and content developers, some time next month, to interact in an IPv6 environment.
Africa holds around 3.5 percent of total IP addresses globally, representing 40 million IPv4 addresses.
Adiel Akplogan, Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Network Information Center (AfriNIC), said though consumption is still low, the development of broadband and mobile internet in the Continent has seen the usage for IP addresses over the last two years increase by 100 percent.
“According to our projections we will run out of IPv4 addresses in the next two years. New services are coming in. Countries are activating 3G and democratizing their broadband so that will increase usage, so we might run out faster than that,” he said.
AfriNIC is Africa’s regional Internet registry and has been offering IPv6 training for the last couple of years, to operators to see the business value of deploying IPv6.
“IPv4 is reaching the limit of its design mainly because availability of numbers. IPv4 is designed to serve four billion unique addresses which are almost exhausted that means new people wanting to connect to the internet will not have an identifier,” Akplogan said.
Some companies concerned about cost of IPv6 deployment have been reluctant to make the move to IPv6 rather waiting for IPv4 to deplete.
However, Akplogan said most of the equipment in the market is already IPv6 compliant, with most of the cost being more in training and capacity building.
The official global launch of IPv6 was last week and so far penetration of the next generation platform is about 10.5 percent in Africa, compared to the global average of 11 percent.