India Wakes Up to the Inevitability of IPv6

India's  roadmap for IPv6 migration sets a tight deadline for the government and its departments, and emphasizes a partnership with service providers.

by / August 12, 2010

India -- a country where just one IP address is shared by as many as 10 Internet users --  isn't yet IPv6-enabled. Still, while its Asian peers have long started migrating to the new generation Internet Protocol, it seems that India is suddenly waking up to the inevitability of IPv6, and is rushing to catch up with the rest of the world.

Late last month the Indian government finally released a detailed  roadmap for IPv6 migration. The roadmap has not only set a tight deadline for migration by the government and its departments, but is also trying to partner with the service providers in the country's IPv6 migration pursuits.

"The government and its departments are very big users of IT products and services," says RM Agarwal, the deputy director general of India's Telecommunication Engineering Center (TEC), "as E-services are increasingly gaining importance for governments to connect with people." TEC is the technical arm of the India's Department of Telecom (DoT) that released this National IPv6 Deployment Roadmap for implementation by "all stakeholders" including the federal and state government departments.

"What is important to note here," said Agarwal "is that while the government has to give IPv6 migration the initial push, it is completely dependent on the large Internet service providers. Until this sector starts offering IPv6 services the government cannot migrate to IPv6."

Agarwal says that although the government doesn't really fear the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses anytime soon, "and neither does it fear a shutdown of its services when IPv4 addresses does get exhausted," in a scenario of depleting IPv4 addresses, "a larger pool of addresses has already become necessary for India to ensure that government departments are not limited in the rollout of increasingly innovative and citizen-centric services."
Agarwal said that with the initiation of 3G services and Net-enabled devices that will follow, he forsees a looming shortage of IP addresses by August of 2012. "The DoT feels that ICT use would be severely restricted if the country's networks are not fully IPv6-enabled by then."

Consequently the compliance deadline is tight. For instance, the DoT hopes to complete all decision-making processes, policy developments, business plans, equipment selection, designing networks, etc, by March 2011, and launch the basic IPv6 services by March 2012.

"That's an ambitious target, considering that barring one or two service providers, India has hardly any IPv6 adoption," said Amitabh Singhal, ex-director general of the Internet Service Provider Association of India, and now a telecom consultant. "But even if India fails to meet the deadline -- given that the current Indian Internet user population is not expected to leapfrog in the next two years -- I do not think networks will start shutting down."

In 2009, India had 18 million IPv4 addresses, with less than 0.018 IP address per Indian citizen. In comparison, the U.S. has the largest chunk of
IPv4 addresses extending 5.3 IP address per U.S. citizen. China too, commands a large chunk of IPv4 addresses although it is still 0.15 addresses per capita.

China started migrating to IPv6 in 2006 with the creation of the China Next Generation Internet (CNGI). CNGI was conceptualized to become the nationwide backbone to integrate all services in China for fixed, mobile, GRID and Research. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China also managed to showcase its IPv6 capabilities. Reports say that the country now possesses the largest IPv6 network. 

India's other Asian peers, like Taiwan and South Korea, were also well ahead. Taiwan's e-Taiwan initiative for instance ensured that the government networks were ready to use IPv6 by 2007 and by 2008, six million broadband users were already using IPv6.

South Korea's IPv6 commenced in February 2001

with the government devising a new strategy called IT839. This ensured that communication carriers, domestic equipment makers, large and small, and research organizations accelerated development of equipment needed for deployment of the next generation Internet address system. The Ministry of Information and Communication implemented its first-phase pilot project of KOREAv6 in 2004, and it conducted the second phase pilot service in 2005. The country now is rapidly advancing in its IPv6 adoption while government networks, the postal services, universities, schools and local governments have already migrated to IPv6.

Motivated by the millions of cell phones, personal digital assistants and other devices, Japan has been the leader in Asia as far as deployment of the new protocol is concerned. Its IPv6 deployments started as early as the 1990s. That received a major boost in 2000 when the Japanese government offered tax breaks to companies that switched to the new protocol. Currently under the "u-Japan" (Ubiquitous Japan) program the government is focusing on technologies to make ubiquity happen from home networks, over 4G networks (skipping 3G) through the new Internet Protocol. Reportedly, a major part of the country's networks are now IPv6-enabled.
The U.S. too was an early starter in the world, with the Department of Defense announcing its support for IPv6 back in June 2003 after consultations with the North American IPv6 Task Force and the IPv6 Forum. However, work began in 2005 on a transition strategy at the federal government level with the target of making the core network IPv6 by 2008. According to experts however, the recession of the past two years has taken a toll on that migration plan as the country's governments are trying to overcome funding issues.

The Indian IPv6 initiatives are largely modeled around the Japanese and U.S. IPv6 implementation, said Agarwal.

"Japan encouraged public-private partnership in its IPv6 deployment, and in the U.S., the task force plays a major role. Similarly, the Indian deployment starts with the formation of a task force, to look into all aspects of IPv6 deployment, while we are actively encouraging the private sector to partner with the government in India's efforts," he said.
The roadmap lists the first step as "reaching out to all stakeholders," by engaging the telecom service providers including the Internet community, and industry. There will also be multi-stakeholder advisory groups including separate task forces in the central and state government departments to assess and advise regarding government-level IPv6 migration.

The second step is seamless government-level coordination and cooperation. Here the DoT has advised the government to form an organization that will be given the power to garner cooperation from all government departments and concerned stakeholders.

And the final step is persuasion. The government, according to the roadmap, should take the lead in communicating and persuading all stakeholders and have even been advised to offer monetary and non-monetary incentives.

Nevertheless, even as the DoT is confident that migration to IPv6 will be smooth and seamless in India -- "the task force will ensure that no impediments including funding come in the way," says Agarwal -- not everybody is convinced.

"All central and state government ministries and departments, including its publicly-owned companies have been mandated by the roadmap to start using IPv6 services by March 2012. While many may meet that deadline, a few smaller states and companies could face problems like lack of knowledge and funding issues," said Singhal.

Many privately-owned smaller Internet service providers who have invested in the IPv4 networks and haven't been able to recover that investment yet, owing to slow penetration rate of Internet in the country, may not be willing to invest again for the new network, he said.

"But such fears could just be conjecture," said Agarwal. "Migration to IPv6 is, after all, inevitable, and someday, everyone has to adopt the new protocol. There will be ways to overcome whatever problems that might crop up; that will be the job of the task force."