Africa's lag behind other regions in technology may actually serve to ensure a faster Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) adoption.
The pool of available IPv4 addresses is expected to run out by 2011 because of global broadband uptake and the expected growth of Internet access in Africa.
Other regions have been slow to adopt IPv6 because of huge investments in legacy systems and the lack of clear business gains from adopting the new version, but many African countries have few or no such headaches. In Africa, the main reason is a lack of actual investment in technology as well as a lack of awareness from existing ISPs and other businesses in the chain.
"The rate of IPv6 adoption in Africa seems to be higher than in other regions. It seems that this may be an area where being behind can help us get ahead," said Calvin Brown, a director at UniForum, the administrator of the .co.za domain name.
The move to raise awareness about the next-generation Internet Protocol has taken concerted efforts between governments, regional bodies and the private sector.
The Internet Society (ISOC) and AfriNIC, a coordinating body that allocates IP addresses and related autonomous system numbers to carriers and enterprises in Africa, have been conducting technical training on IPv6 while governments and ICT stakeholders in specific countries raise awareness within those nations.
"ISOC is working with AfriNIC to ensure that the critical Internet infrastructure like Internet eXchange Points and country code Top Level Domains are IPv6-ready," said Michuki Mwangi, ISOC senior education manager.
AfriNIC has set up a virtual IPv6 lab that is used by educational institutions in Africa as a testbed to increase IPv6 hands-on experience in the region. According to AfriNIC, IPv4 allocations have been on the decline and countries have started taking up IPv6, while Kenya and South Africa are leading in IPv6 allocations.
Kenya is also one of the countries leading in IPv6 awareness and adoption -- the .ke domain registry is IPv6-capable, and the registry managers are working with the government to train and sensitize on the need for IPv6 adoption.
"Kenic, the .ke registry operator, deployed IPv6 to the .ke name servers in 2006 and has been running a test bed since 2005," said Vincent Ngundi, administrative manager at Kenic. The Kenyan government has insisted that IPv6 adoption is a top priority and set up a national task force to set strategies for awareness, capacity building, research and development, IPv6 implementation, and deployment and policy issues that should be put in place.
But it is not all smooth sailing for most African countries. Some have yet to invest in critical Internet infrastructure like IXPs and ccTLD registries, while others are grappling with access issues.
For instance, Ghana has hosted several high-level continental ICT training sessions and conferences, but has yet to make meaningful progress in IPv6 adoption.
"Ghana Internet Services Providers Association collaborated with AfriNIC in IPv6 training. The Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence for ICT Training also has an IPv6 forum in Ghana and offers training for its members occasionally, but in terms of adoption, the country currently is at zero percent," said Charles Amega-Serlom, senior researcher at Ghana Internet Research.
While the region is expected to improve its access to the Internet, the success in adoption will depend on availability of critical Internet infrastructure, status of local networks and the effectiveness of government strategies.