On 31 March 2017, AFRINIC hit a historic milestone as it announced that it had reached Phase 1 of its IPv4 Exhaustion process. Find out more about what this means for AFRINIC members, for the African and global Internet and the history behind IPv4 Exhaustion.
Last week, AFRINIC announced that it had reached Phase 1 of its IPv4 Exhaustion process. As the last of the world's five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) to begin allocating IPv4 address space from the final /8 of address space it received from the IANA in 2011, this marks a historic turning point in the evolution of the Internet.
In February 2011, the IANA allocated two large blocks of IPv4 address space to APNIC – the RIR for the Asia Pacific Region - causing the global IPv4 pool to deplete to a critically low level. This triggered the "Global Policy for the Allocation of the Remaining IPv4 Address Space". Each RIR then received one /8 each - 'the final /8' - which is around 16.8 million IPv4 addresses, depleting IANA's pool of available IPv4 address space and setting the ball rolling for global IPv4 exhaustion.
Exhausting the Pool
The five RIRs continued to distribute IPv4 address space as per their own regional, community-developed policies and, in April 2011, APNIC was the first RIR to exhaust its free pool of IPv4 space, meaning it had no more IPv4 address space left to allocate to its members except for those addresses it had received in the final /8. The RIPE NCC (Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia) followed quickly in 2012. LACNIC (Latin America and the Caribbean) reached its final /8 in June 2014 and, in September 2015, ARIN allocated the final IPv4 addresses in its free pool, leaving AFRINIC as the only RIR with an as-yet unrestricted pool of IPv4 address space from which to allocate to its members. All this changed on 31 March this year.
Each of the five RIRs have been preparing for IPv4 Exhaustion for many years. To ensure that each of the last /8s of address space each RIR received was distributed conservatively and space was available for future RIR members to ensure smooth transition away from IPv4-only networks, each RIR community devised 'Soft Landing' proposals to ease their members into a future without a supply of IPv4. AFRINIC's current Soft Landing Proposal reduces the maximum allocation size that members may request to a /13 (around 524,000 addresses) as soon as it begins to fulfil requests from the final /8. Once the final /8 has been reduced to a /11 (around 2.1 million addresses), the maximum request amount is reduced to a /22 (1,024 addresses). In both phases, there are currently no limits set on how many times a member can request IPv4 space. It will only be allocated, however, if the need for it is justified and AFRINIC's hostmasters are confident that all the address space will be used in the manner specified in the request.
RIR members in other regions are no longer able to request IPv4 address space from their RIR unless they meet specific requirement. RIPE NCC Members, for example, can get a one-time /22 (1,024 addresses) but they must already have an IPv6 allocation to be eligible. IPv4 Transfers - within and between regions - are permitted in some of the RIR regions but there is no provision for transfers within, in or out of the AFRINIC region, although a draft policy proposal on transfers is currently under discussion by the AFRINIC community.
How the Available IPv4 Pool Diminished
There are 232 (around 4.3 billion) unique IPv4 addresses, which seemed like a huge amount back in the early days of the Internet. But the Internet grew faster than anyone could have predicted and it soon became apparent that the supply of IPv4 address space would not be enough to meet future demand for emerging users and connected devices - each of which needs a unique identifier, an IP address, to connect. Today, there are already more devices and objects connecting to the Internet than there are IPv4 addresses available for them.
The Way Forward
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) developed, tested and standardised IPv6 in the late 1990s. There are around 2128 IPv6 address (a number so long that it would take up several lines of this paragraph), which is more than enough to meet the addressing needs of the world and to ensure that every phone, tablet, smart car, watch or pair of shoes that is part of the IoT can be assigned an IP address for many, many years to come.
Well, no. Even though we are sitting on a huge supply of IPv6 addresses, it's not as simple as just allocating every device an IPv6 address instead of an IPv4 address. Most of the newer infrastructure and devices and smart objects are ready to connect using IPv4 and/or IPv6 but many existing networks and devices, especially in developing regions, are not IPv6 enabled.
Different by Design
IPv4 and IPv6 are unable to communicate directly with each other, an intentional design. This means that devices connecting to the Internet with only an IPv4 address cannot communicate with devices that are connecting with only an IPv6 address and vice versa. So, in order to ensure that networks continue to run seamlessly and all devices around the world can continue to communicate with each other, IPv6 must be deployed in parallel with IPv4. Although most network engineers now understand the critical importance of ensuring that their networks and products work with IPv4 and IPv6, making the transition can be costly if new equipment needs to be purchased and sometimes convincing a non-technical business owner or manager of the need is difficult.
IPv6 is the Future of the African Internet
Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of mobile Internet users, already far more than in North America or the European Union, a huge population of future Internet users waiting to get online, a growing tech industry and a large community of tech entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of the Internet to solve issues and improve lives. All of these networks, devices, services and 'things' will need an IP address and at a certain point, only IPv6 addresses will be available for that purpose.
We cannot predict how long AFRINIC's /8 of IPv4 space will last and, now that AFRINIC is in Phase 1 of IPv4 exhaustion, it is now more important than ever that all members understand the urgent need for IPv6 deployment. Over 40% of the membership has an IPv6 allocation, which is currently free of charge, but only 352,583,680/64 out of 152,521,885,696 /64 allocations are advertised (0.002%). As obtaining IPv4 address space in Africa is set to become more difficult, more and more network operators will hopefully kick their IPv6 deployment plans and AFRINIC will be there to help along the way.
AFRINIC delivers one of Africa's leading IPv6 Training programs - for free - and the team is likely coming to an African nation near you in 2017. In 2016, AFRINIC also launched Cert::6, an IPv6 Certification platform, and partners with regional organisations throughout the continent to train and certify engineers in IPv6 deployment techniques. AFRINIC sponsors and supports critical infrastructure initiatives, such as DNS and IXP development programs, provides Fellowships to ensure that all of Africa is represented in developing Internet number resource policies, and advocates about IPv6 deployment at global events throughout the world. The flagship Grants and Awards programme, the Fund for Internet Research and Education (FIRE Africa), supports, among many other projects, initiatives dealing with access, infrastructure development and security.
- If you're an AFRINIC member - or considering becoming one - make sure you request your IPv6 allocation as soon as possible and begin working on your deployment plan to ensure that your networks and services are not left behind.
- Sign up for one of AFRINIC's IPv6 Training Workshops to find out more about IPv6 and how to deploy it on your networks.
- Get informed: read the current AFRINIC policies and policy proposals and have your say on the mailing lists about how IPv4 and IPv6 address space should be distributed in your region. Policy proposals that propose changes to the current Soft Landing Policy are currently under discussion.
- Attend the next AFRINIC meeting to discuss policy, network with other IT professionals and Internet governance experts, and attend world class training sessions.