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The internet as we know it is transitioning to the latest Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) to fulfill the ever-growing need for internet connectivity. IPv6 promises long-term global and enterprise-level benefits and various businesses and technical service providers have already moved to IPv6-only or dual stack network driven operations.

Despite the current IPv4’s falling availability of IP addresses and its increasing cost on the secondary market, many countries in the Gulf region continue to struggle with IPv6 deployment, barring exceptions such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.

To put things into perspective, as per Akamai, on August 19, 2021, IPv6 adoption in KSA ranks 9th at 39.9%, UAE ranks 11 at 37.4% whereas Qatar ranks 121 at 0.1%.

However, Qatar has been steadily upping its ante when it comes to creating an advanced technology-ready ICT infrastructure.

With its modest ratings in the global IPv6 arena, Qatar’s foresight in implementing IPv6 to enable next-generation telecommunications technologies such as 5G and Internet of things (IoT) to connect multiple devices was quite on the target. Moreover, Qatar was ranked first globally in the rate of internet adoption among the total population with a percentage reaching 99%, according to The Global State of Digital 2021 report.

Taking baby steps

To ensure a smooth transition from IPv4 to IPv6 to support the development and achievement of Qatar national vision 2030, Qatar’s Communications Regulatory Authority’s (CRA) IPv6 task force met with stakeholders and the Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) at the CRA headquarters in May 2018 to create a roadmap for the next-gen model of connectivity. As a socially and economically growing nation, the requirement of an advanced ICT infrastructure to act as a catalyst for the development of emerging technologies and smart solutions was key for Qatar. The IPv6 Council Qatar, a chapter of the International IPv6 Forum under Eng. Abdulla Jassmi, technical affairs department manager, CRA dedicated to the advancement and promotion of IPv6 best practices and integration.

The task force operated on three main phases:

Assessment: In this phase, the assessment of the status of IPv6 adoption, as well as evaluation of the means required for the transition across the stakeholders, was made. A realistic roadmap was prepared and developed based on the relevant readiness, needs and requirements for the transition journey.

Awareness: This phase aimed at providing guidance and supportive assistance to organizations to develop their migration strategy and layout their action plans for the transition. This consisted of many campaigns, initiated by the regulator along with the leading stakeholders such as academic institutions, the internet service providers, governmental entities, banking industry, aviation, oil, and gas.

Implementation: Every national transition strategy of such a scale would require a focused implementation phase with national deadlines. This phase focused on gaining hands-on experience, learning from trials and testings through dedicated testing labs for this transition. Key stakeholders were identified to become the focal points for the transitional requirements to encourage and promote IPv6 transition and implementation throughout the industries. These key stakeholders were responsible for enabling IPv6 starting from their organizations and the organizations they led.

Facilitation and support

The key requirement for facilitation was ensuring that the technical teams had the technical expertise required for this initiative. CRA in collaboration with RIPE NCC conducted a technical IPv6 training course with the primary objective of internet resources management capacity building as part of a series of training courses under the IPv6 National Implementation Strategy. Technical training was provided in coordination with regional and international organizations to meet the requirements and support for the transition. Equally important was knowledge sharing across all industries. As academia were the leaders in adopting IPv6 across the organizations in Qatar, they were set as a key model who encouraged, shared their experience and lessons learned, and all the activities they had performed throughout the implementation of dual-stack solutions, where both IPv4 and IPv6 co-exist on the same network, to the other industries.

Ever-present challenges

Challenges were addressed to provide suitable solutions to encourage stakeholders and the ICT ecosystem in the State of Qatar to move forward.

“It was a learning by doing approach, something that required studying, testing, implementing, and learning from the outcomes,” said Salma Sulaiti, head of standards and next-generation technology of CRA during a Telecom Review Webinar on IPv6.

“We needed to adopt a plan based on the progress that had been made by the ICT ecosystem. There was resistance as it was a change within the industries. People needed to have a new mindset to learn new skills and put new plans to ensure a smooth transition,” she stressed. Throughout the process, it was important to convince people and promote the benefits and advantages of IPv6,” she adds.

One of the key challenges was vulnerabilities and security threats related to IPv6. Therefore, it was important to provide awareness and education about IPv6 security. The taskforce worked with leading universities in Qatar to develop security guidelines for IPv6. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic posed many challenges including social distancing which has heightened the need for a robust ICT infrastructure for remote communications and ensuring work continuity. The importance of IPv6 for all types of communication services solutions is key to advancement towards digital transformation.

Lessons learned

Qatar’s success in charting a smooth transition from IPv4 to IPV6 offers some important lessons that can be emulated by other developing countries. The first step was setting a clear national goal by providing a clear strategy, including the action and plans, cost analysis required for a smooth transition of IPv6 across the nation. This is followed by the identification and assigning of roles and responsibilities related to the project throughout the process.

Since it was a learning by doing process, plans and agenda had to be tweaked based on the progress made by the ICT ecosystem as a whole. This involved providing technical and non-technical support, coordinating and collaborating, providing IPv6 test labs along with key stakeholders, providing technical guidelines for the implementation and the vulnerabilities of IPv6.  

Qatar managed to overcome its challenges by providing smart measurable solutions, addressing the challenges encountered and providing the solutions. It also kept the level of motivation high in terms of the benefits of IPv6 implementation and keeping the channel of communication open and transparent. A continual test, trials, and pilot projects were essential to achieve success.

“I wouldn't deny that there have been some drawbacks, but to move forward, we needed to get ourselves comfortable throughout this journey as a whole ecosystem,” stresses Sulaiti.

For the world at large to move away from IPv4 and switch to an IPv6-only public internet, wide-scale deployment is essential. Harnessing technology and innovation to drive a sustainable economic agenda while improving quality of life and enhancing the delivery of public services in sectors, such as transportation, logistics, healthcare, sports and environment is of prime importance.

There can be a lot at stake when taking on technologically demanding world events such as the World Cup with billions of dollars spent. However, the returns can be massively rewarding. Qatar could well be in that position with robust IPv6-enabled connectivity.

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