I’m in Dar es salaam, Tanzania for the long week that African techies are dedicating to reflection, face-to-face mentoring, support and of course networking. I took part on June 7th to the African Network Operators Group “AFNOG-12” meeting. What struck me first was the openness of the meeting.
No fees and everyone is invited to attend. I like very much the concept as I don’t like those meeting where techies are talking to techies and everyone else has to either sleep or keep quiet. Oh I forget the third option, play games on their mobile phones (it is also part of the technology, right?).
So AFNOG, a more 500 than membership organization, put together people from everywhere on the continent with a good representation of telecoms operators, internet providers , most of them also members of diverse international organizations such as The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Society (ISOC) and so on.
The discussions were very factual and accurate with a mix of partner organizations from Europe and America coming to advertise and share their research, studies and projects as well as Africans talking about their progress. In terms of reporting on progress, internet protocol version 6 (IPV6), the next generation numbering system was what it was all about.
The broadly used and known version of the internet protocol is IP version 4. The internet was designed for each device attached to the network to have its own unique identifier (IP address) so computers can communicate with one another. The treat of the shortage of IPv4 unique identifiers was demonstrated in the early 1980s and in response; the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) developed the basic specifications of IPv6 during the 1990s to substitute the IPv4.
Safaricom major leader in the telecommunications world in Kenya (95% for themselves when the other 4 or 5 telecoms operators have to share the remaining 5%) boasted about how they are moving their operating system towards IPv6 as well as their challenges and successes.
But you know, for IPv6 to work, people will have to also upgrade their devices. When prosperous telecommunication companies are doing so, are they thinking about their African consumers?
The question was of course asked and it happen in all the discussions around demand and offer in Africa.
Are we just going forwards with technology just for the sake of proving that we can, we are up-to-date with the most recent technology or is our market dictating to us our development?
At least the question is asked all the time while they met and I’m sure it will be a central one for more consumers’ organizations, and non-techies are ready to partake to such questions and bring their views.
What I know, is that it is inconceivable for me to see that techies are just laughing at the fact that the current Chinese telephones the majority of Africa is using will not be able to operate on IPv6. They just see it as the price for better network and they think that the Chinese and everyone else who is building telephones will follow the development need of the new networks.
But I would like to tell them this. A new device, a new telephone operating on a new system all this cost money. And if African consumers, among the poorest in the world, are in majority using those cheap telephones, it is also for affordability purpose.
So please dear African net workers, when you are talking about those new things, please just think about that. Just things about consumers as you do when you say that the IPv6 allowed better inbuilt security or better auto-configuration among others solutions to the problems that we consumers encounter.
Of course I know and I’ve heard that to the end users life should go on. Most of the major social networks we are using today were developed already in IPv6 and so we, if we don’t move forward we may face problems down the road like being the place where everybody is coming to dump their old technology. These are my questions : Do we know which practices will be coming up as we are just starting? Are all the applications succeeding when you are trying them on IPv6? Are all the features to control our network available on the continent?
I heard some of you saying that going IPv6 is not about making money, increasing your revenue but about allowing your consumers to not fail when opening a certain web service hosted on IPv6 and be tempted to move to the next provider.
You said that consumers don’t care about IPv4 or IPv6 they just want to access their facebook page, but don’t just go there because everybody is doing so. Take time to think and convince, learn and plan before investing so much money in something which may not be the priority of your consumers now.