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Caribbean among slowest in the world to adopt new Internet standard

Low IPv6 adoption reflects poor innovation culture, expert says
Published: 
Friday, May 22, 2015
Carlos Martinez, Chief Technology Officer of the Internet Addresses Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean

With its high penetration, heavy consumption and hefty fees, the Caribbean provides Internet service providers (ISPs) with some of their best-paying customers. The region’s Average Return Per User rates, called ARPUs, are among the world’s highest.

But if you live in the Caribbean, the greatest obstacle standing between you and the next big evolution of the Internet could be that ISP you’re paying so handsomely.

The next generation of the web is already here, and it’s called Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6. Internet Protocol addresses are the unique numeric addresses assigned to any device that sends or receives information over the Internet. The current protocol, IPv4, does not have the amount of address space necessary to deal with the rapidly increasing number of connected devices—smartphones, watches, tablets, laptops—communicating online.

Allocation ≠ Adoption
As the stock of available IPv4 addresses approaches depletion, IPv6 deployment is being encouraged by the two regional Internet registries with responsibility for the Caribbean—the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and the Internet Addresses Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean (LACNIC). In a pair of exclusive interviews with the Guardian, top officials from ARIN and LACNIC discussed Caribbean ISP's slow rate IPv6 deployment.

Leslie Nobile, Senior Director of Global Registry Knowledge at ARIN, told the Guardian that about 43% of ARIN's Internet Service Provider (ISP) members in the Caribbean had already received their IPv6 allocations. That figure compares well with the percentage of allocations already given to ARIN's U.S. and Canadian ISP members, about 47%. 

However, LACNIC chief technology officer Carlos Martinez told the Guardian that, compared to their North American neighbours, Caribbean ISPs have been relatively slow to actually deploy the new technology. Studies on Internet traffic show a global average IPv6 adoption rate of around five per cent, while the region lags at less than one per cent, he said.

Competition spurs innovation

So why is the region so slow to deploy IPv6? Martinez says the Caribbean’s slow adoption of the new technology reveals regional carriers’ attitude toward innovation in general.

He explained that companies holding monopolies based on incumbent technologies have less incentive to innovate than potential rivals. But incumbents can be overtaken by newcomers who are ready to take the risks associated with adopting emerging technologies. When the radical innovations of the emerging technologies eventually become the new technological paradigm, those newcomers leapfrog ahead of former leading firms.

“There are exceptions,” Martinez told the T&T Guardian, “but the markets which are more competitive usually move forward faster than the ones who are not.”

And the regional landscape is dominated by a few operators, who have demonstrated relatively limited interest in innovation, Martinez said.

“There are only a few large operators in the Caribbean, and it would only take one of them to adopt IPv6 for everyone else to follow suit.”

But the more dominant the player in any given market, the smaller their incentive to innovate.

“If you have a profitable business, and there is little or no influence that your customers can exert to change your operation, then there’s ultimately little incentive to make changes,” Martinez said.

For him, the region’s slow rate of IPv6 adoption is just the symptom. The latent malaise is the region’s low levels of innovation across its telecommunications industry.

“It’s a tell-tale sign of something deeper,” he said.

Pushing IPv6 deployment

Martinez was interviewed during Lacnic’s annual gathering of Internet stakeholders, held in Lima, Peru last week. Hundreds of delegates from Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in the coastal South American nation for LACNIC 23, to discuss IPv6 adoption and other issues affecting the expansion and development of the Internet in the region.

As one of the world’s five Regional Internet Registries, Lacnic plays a leading role in encouraging the deployment of IPv6 across the region. In March, they successfully completed a hands-on workshop in Trinidad and Tobago on core IPv6 concepts, held in partnership with an ongoing IPv6 transition project spearheaded by the Telecommunications Authority (TATT). 

 

In April, Lacnic's Training Center successfully completed its first introductory course on IPv6, conducted as a free, self-paced massively open online course (MOOC).

And there are already plans for further outreach this year in Suriname, Belize and St Maarten, in collaboration with the Internet Society.

“The intention is to see how best we can encourage different actors to raise awareness of T&T's IPv6 deployment, and to link that work with its implication for the continued expansion and growth of the open, stable and secure Internet,” said Kevon Swift, LACNIC’s External Relations Officer for the Caribbean.

If the slow adoption to date is anything to go by, Internet organisations like LACNIC, CaribNOG and the Internet Society have got some work cut out for them over the coming months.

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