SA ready for 'new' internet

2010-08-04 09:20
Director of UniForum SA Mark Elkins, who also sits on the board of Afrinic, has warned that IPv6 will be a reality soon. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Director of UniForum SA Mark Elkins, who also sits on the board of Afrinic, has warned that IPv6 will be a reality soon. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The internet in its current form is under threat, but UniForum says that there are systems in place to avoid a slow death of the web.

Addresses for devices to connect to the web are assigned by Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, but these are limited and they will soon run out.

"The IP addresses assigned to ISPs (Internet Service Providers) by Afrinic are based on IPv4 which is a 32-bit number and we'll run out of those by March to April 2011," UniForum director Mark Elkins told News24.

He said that the IP system was devised in the 1970s and no one realised the phenomenal growth potential of the internet and it was expected that the four billion addresses that can theoretically be assigned would be enough.

"No one was able to predict the growth we've seen in the internet. When I took over the co.za, there were 400 domains registered, and that took about 400 working days. Today there are exactly 575 677 paid co.za domains," said Elkins as he checked the number on his iPad.

The solution lies in the new IPv6 protocol that will allow for far more IP addresses and should be reasonably future proof, according to Elkins.

Prohibited communication

"About 15 years ago they developed the IPv6 which is a 128-bit system and it is so robust that it’s quite plausible that every single device that connects to the internet can have its own unique IP address," said Elkins.

He said that it also dispensed with the need for network translators that prohibited communication between devices on the internet.

"ISPs will have to use both IPv4 and IPv6 systems for about 10 years as the IPv4 system fades out. And they will have to buy a bunch of IPv6 addresses - and there's no yearly charge for that at the moment," he said.

Elkins cautioned though, that ISPs were slow to adopt the 128-bit system.

"Web servers should run IPv4 and IPv6 - a dual start system. If they don't implement IPv6, they won't die, but they will peter out slowly. The problem is that they will have to spend time and money when there is no cash benefit - and customers haven't asked for it," he said.

Elkins though, would not be drawn on whether the government .gov.za domains were compliant with IPv6 or whether there was sufficient training in place for effective implementation in SA.

"The biggest expense will probably be staff training. The universities have IPv6, but whether they are teaching it, I don't know," said Elkins.

Concerns

He insisted that the threat was real and urged stakeholders to actively prepare to the phasing out of IPv4.

"This is not like the millennium bug - it won't happen in a moment, but people need to do something about it. The co.za domain has been ready for about two years already and we are the main one in the country," said Elkins.

He also addressed some of the concerns raised by News24 users who questioned UniForum's interface.

"The email interface was our most simplistic and we don't run name servers. That's the job of an ISP," he said.

He also said that UniForum was moving toward an Extensible Provisioning Protocol which should add a better interface, but would require "technically competent" registrars.

Elkins said that the crash earlier this year was unlikely to be repeated.

"Look, we had a crash even though we thought we had enough redundancy. Obviously we didn't, but we're spending a lot of effort to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

"The crash stopped new business, but it didn't affect existing business because the co.za was still there."

He also singled out Telkom for causing stagnation of the internet market in SA.

"Telkom has been strangling the industry. When they came into the industry, growth slowed because they're motivated by money. The best thing they did was ADSL, but the customer still has to pay for phone and line rental," said Elkins.

He conceded that UniForum was also a monopoly but said that they had added value in the market.

"Registering a domain was R200 15 years ago, now it's R50, including VAT."


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