Driving internet development

The Internet has come a long way since the late 90s when only a few organisations, both in the private and public sector, were building an online presence. According to a recent report by the European Commission, e-commerce within the EU alone was worth £100 billion in 2008, and despite the current economic turmoil it is expected to soar by more than 200 per cent to £227 billion over the next five years. The Internet, and its underlying infrastructure, is critical to the global economy.

Where are we now?
The Internet currently operates mostly on Internet Protocol version four (IPv4), a system of addresses that is used to identify devices connected to a computer network.
These IP addresses are distributed by the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), which are AfriNIC for the African region, APNIC for the Asia Pacific region, ARIN for Canada, many Caribbean and North Atlantic islands and the United States, LACNIC for Latin America and parts of the Caribbean, and the RIPE NCC, which manages IP addresses for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
IPv4 address space allocated prior to the establishment of the RIPE NCC (in 1992) accounts for roughly 30 per cent of the total IPv4 address pool. Much of that space is currently in the hands of private sector or government organisations. Registration practices in the pre-RIR days were far less formal, and therefore the current holders of this ‘legacy’ address space are sometimes unknown. Such unregistered IP addresses pose a security threat to the rest of the Internet as they are more susceptible to hijacking.
Governments should be aware of the issues surrounding legacy space, and are encouraged to look at their own early address holdings, with an eye on determining whether they are using these addresses efficiently. It is also vital to ensure that all addresses held by government organisations are registered with the relevant RIR.

Where next?
The situation is heightened because almost 85 per cent of IPv4 addresses have been allocated, and they are predicted to run out altogether by 2011. The technical community has been aware of this for many years, and has long recognised that a new generation of IP address protocol would be required to meet future demand for unique Internet addresses. It was with this in mind that IPv6 was developed in the mid-90s. The continued growth and development of the Internet relies on the rapid deployment of IPv6 by both public and private sectors.
IPv6 numbers operate on a 128-bit system, so there are more numbers available than under the 32-bit IPv4 system. Adoption of IPv6 will mean the number of addresses available will increase massively, enough to provide every person on the planet with millions of unique addresses. Such a vast number of addresses, however, may be required to keep pace with the ever increasing number of internet connected devices.

How do we get there?
The original plan for IPv6 migration was that as the Internet grew and the IPv4 address pool was depleted, the new protocol, IPv6, would be deployed. Had we followed this plan, the deployment of IPv6 would be complete long before the last IPv4 address was allocated.
The depletion of IPv4 continues, however, and its final exhaustion has the potential to radically alter the Internet industry. Should IPv6 not exist as a viable alternative by this time, the lack of new addresses has the potential to curtail growth and innovation in the industry. It is a question then of when, rather than if, IPv6 will be widely implemented.
IPv6 deployment activity has, up to this point, been minimal. This is now a real problem, because the transition to IPv6 will now have to take place in the grey area beyond IPv4 address pool exhaustion. Combined with the fact that IPv6 is not backward compatible, this means that organisations will need to ‘dual stack’, and run IPv4 and IPv6 simultaneously to guarantee full connectivity when upgrading to the new protocol.
Significant migration to IPv6 has already begun in areas such as China, but it is important for Internet community members throughout the world to realise that this development is coming, and migration is not optional.

Role of government
Governments are key players in Internet growth and the Internet industry is urging them to play their part in the deployment of IPv6 and in particular to lead by example in making content available over IPv6 networks
Europe is already making good strides towards IPv6 migration. In May 2008 the European Commission set a target of 2010 for enabling 25 per cent of users to connect to the Internet over IPv6, and to present critical resources and services using IPv6 addresses. European ministerial involvement at last year’s OECD Ministerial meeting in Seoul, South Korea, on the Future of the Internet was significant. It’s clear that governmental appetite and intention exists to assist in the development of the Internet.
Now is the time for intent to be converted into action. More effort and investment needs to be made to ensure European governments, organisations and citizens are well placed to take advantage of Internet development beyond 2011.
The immediate challenge lies in making content available via IPv6, and in using the processes and mechanisms already available through the five RIRs to ensure that service providers and content providers build adequate experience and expertise to continue to grow and develop the Internet.
Governments are influential forces for Internet growth. Leading by example, governments can play an important part assisting in the deployment of IPv6. Where governments lead in creating an atmosphere of change and encouraging a landscape for safe and effective Internet development, the private sector will join them wholeheartedly – the challenge is one of co-operation.
Public sector, commercial companies and the wider community of Internet stakeholders must work together in a concerted effort to push for migration to IPv6 sooner rather than later. We know we’re running out of addresses, now it’s time to actually do something about it.

For more information
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