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Africa’s mobile industry is growing very fast. The latest figures show that mobile subscriptions in the region have now passed the 500mn mark and it has been predicted that by 2015 mobile broadband figures could reach 265mn.

With demand ever on the increase, there is pressure on ISPs and broadband providers to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to support this unprecedented growth and consequently the increasing need for more IP identifiers.

Every new device that connects to the Internet requires a unique Internet protocol (IP) identifier, or address. The global Internet is currently running on IP version four (IPv4), but there is a limited supply of this resource and current predictions suggest the global IPv4 supply will run out by March 2011. To ensure that devices can still connect to the Internet, the technical community developed a new version of the protocol, IP version six, IPv6, which provides a much larger pool of addresses. Adoption of the next generation of IP addresses is fundamental to continue to be able to connect new devices to the network and protect the future growth of the fixed and mobile Internet in Africa.

AfriNIC, the regional Internet registry (RIR) for Africa, is responsible for allocating IP addresses in the region. AfriNIC is assigned IP addresses by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which issues these resources to the world’s five RIRs. AfriNIC then allocates IP addresses in block to its members on a need basis. Statistics show that more IP addresses are being requested globally year on year. We are seeing the same phenomenon in Africa where 9,942,784 have been issued in the last 12 months.

A large part of this growth is due to the increasing broadband and 3G services. Each new device (laptop, iPhone, iPad, smartphone) requires an IP address to connect to the Internet, and without the fixed Internet infrastructure seen in other regions, many Africans are reliant on mobile access solution to participate online.

IANA recently allocated a /8 (approximately 16.7 mn addresses), to AfriNIC. Due to the rate of global allocation this means that the next /8 the organisation receives will be its last. This allocation was given earlier than expected, further highlighting the accelerated rate at which Africa currently needs IP addresses. Despite this growing demand AfriNIC is still expected to be the last Regional Internet registry with IPv4 addresses available for allocation.

This means that whilst action needs to be taken by all African Internet stakeholders to increase IPv6 deployment, there is no need to panic as such. ISPs and other businesses must use the time available to plan for the next stage of Internet growth, and avoid rushed and potentially expensive deployments later on. Only by adopting the new protocol now can the region protect and maintain Internet access and a thriving mobile industry.

IPv6 deployment has started in Africa, but it has been slow to date with just 122 prefixes allocated by AfriNIC, equivalent to 6.28% of all connected networks in the region. Deploying IPv6 will ensure that Africa can take advantage of the East African undersea cable and mobile Internet to maximise Internet access and all the benefits it brings. Failure to do so could stifle Internet uptake in the region, and in turn harm Africa’s ability to compete on a global economic stage.

By Adiel Akplogan, CEO AfriNIC