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IPv6: the key that unlocks the new Internet

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The world is running out of new IP addresses fast, and the new addressing scheme – IPv6 – isn’t enjoying too much attention in South Africa. IPv6 is the key to a bigger, better Internet, and local businesses and ISPs should start gearing up for it sooner rather than later, says WILLIE OLIVIER of Johannesburg-based broadband company Bwired.

To most people, IPv6 is just another meaningless acronym spewed out by the technology industry. But if you have a web presence, it affects you: it’s the key to a bigger, better Internet, and will form the backbone of the world’s next-generation broadband networks.

Right now, the Internet has some 4.3 billion IP (internet protocol) addresses and that was thought to be more than enough when the current IPv4 addressing scheme was created in 1977. But with the Internet becoming all-pervasive, it’s becoming quite likely that practically everything will be connected to the Internet within the next few years, from our televisions to fridges that send out alerts when the milk is finished. Suddenly, 4.3 billion unique addresses doesn’t seem so big at all.

With the launch of IPv6 or Internet Protocol version 6, to give it its full name the number of unique web addresses can now grow to 340 trillion, trillion trillion. And we may just need each and every one of them, as industry data suggests that the current IPv4 addresses are rapidly being exhausted. RIPE, the European Internet registry, is down to its final block (16 million) of IPv4 addresses, and ARIN, the regional Internet registry for the Americas, has only three blocks remaining.

IPv6 has major implications for practically everyone: government, business, internet service providers and consumers. Without new addresses, billions of people will never be able to use new-generation Internet services and businesses should start gearing up for IPv6 sooner rather than later.

Making the transition to IPv6 compatibility is not something with a direct financial gain right now, but the long-term overall cost in not deploying IPv6 now will be substantial for companies looking to grow.

The costs will not just be in workarounds or buying more networking gear. Businesses which do not start moving across to IPv6 now will risk accessibility problems with their websites and services when more customers and network providers start using IPv6.

As IPv6 deployment progresses, those ISPs who have not invested in adopting IPv6 in their networks may find attracting new customers difficult, and may begin to lose existing customers who wish to proceed with their own IPv6 deployment.

BWired is currently rolling out one of the first IPv6 networks in South Africa, on the back of a 1000km ring of fibre around greater Johannesburg that will ultimately connect all local government offices and supply wholesale connectivity to local service providers.

A joint venture between Ericsson and the Johannesburg Metro, BWired is already making a splash in the local telecoms industry. Faced with some of the continent’s most seasoned telecoms operators, it grabbed second prize for the most innovative service and third for best backhaul solution category at the recent Africa.com awards in Cape Town. Bwired’s network, one of the most advanced on the continent, will power a ‚”smart city‚”, and ultimately provide services like high-definition video to local residents.

Major network operators, websites and hardware vendors are starting to ready themselves for the new network, including IPv6 connectivity as part of their default product settings. The costs for local businesses will be minimal, with ‚”normal‚” infrastructure upgrades more than capable of providing the necessary conversion. For more than 90 percent of websites, no change would be needed.

But there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. At present, the ‚”dual stack‚” approach, where both IPv4 and IPv6 protocols are run, is the most effective approach. You can run IPv4 and IPv6 side-by-side during the interim stage of migration, and can then gradually start phasing out IPv4.

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Telcos want one face

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The investments that telecommunications service providers are making in reshaping their online properties into customer-centric portals reflects the growing maturity of self-service and Internet uptake in the industry, says KEVIN MELTZER of Consology.

Many telcos around the world are overhauling their websites to offer customers more holistic portals that give them a single point of entry into the organisation.

They are doing so because they recognise that service will be a key point of differentiation for their businesses in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. They have also realised that they have a major opportunity to shift customers away from expensive contact centres towards low-cost electronic channels.

In the past, most telecommunications operators ran multiple sites across multiple domains and subdomains. These web-based properties were built around the way that telcos structured their own businesses rather than around the needs of the customer. But we are now seeing the leading operators take a more user-centric approach to the way that they design their web and mobile sites.

This coincides with a change in the industry from slicing customers into numerous segments and then serving them across a range of functional and product areas. For example, many operators split customers into prepaid and postpaid segments or voice and data users, distinctions that are becoming less meaningful in a world of technology convergence. They now want to present a single face to the customer rather than servicing the subscriber through silos.

These changes are starting to percolate through to operators’ customer service and sales strategies. Telcos are starting to pull together disparate products and services that once resided across multiple sites into customer service portals.

These sites put a wide range of information at the subscriber’s fingertips, he adds. Increasingly, for example, subscribers can log directly into their accounts from the operator’s homepage and then access a wealth of services and information. This marks an evolution from the fractured and inconsistent customer experience of the past.

Leading operators are even thinking about how their Self-Service platforms should be integrated with social media strategies to allow customers to pay their electronic bills or top up airtime with a single click from within a social network.

Whereas Self-Service portals on telco sites were once purely about account management functions, they increasingly offer far richer functionality. In addition to allowing subscribers to pay their bills and check their account information, they are also increasingly becoming the first stop for service and commerce.

Operators have started to recognise that splintering their e-commerce, service and account management functions simply makes no sense. Customers want to be able to do everything through one interface rather than needing to visit two or three Web sites, or eventually possibly needing to phone a call centre or visit a store for certain transactions.

Integrated and easy to use online customer service channels will be central for telco operators who want to be competitive in the markets of tomorrow. They form an advantage in an industry where it will be customer relationships rather than cost or service that drive loyalty and purchasing decisions.

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Talk for less with MWEB Talk

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Today, MWEB announced its consumer VoIP package called MWEB Talk, which allows users to make free network calls and get discounted rates made to landlines and mobile phones.

MWEB, today launched its new Voice over IP (VoIP) offering to South African consumers. The service, MWEB Talk, will offer users’ free on network calls to fellow MWEB Talk users’ and cheap calls to landline and mobile phone numbers. This follows the success and demand of the ISP’s existing VoIP products in recent months.

‚”We have seen a noticeable transformation in users’ Internet behaviour with consumers wanting services that complement their ADSL connectivity solution. We have seen phenomenal growth and by the end of the year will deliver over 100 million minutes on our VoIP platform,‚” says Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect, the ISP’s Consumer and Small Office/ Home Office Division.

MWEB has made significant investments in its infrastructure and VoIP has been prioritised on its network to ensure performance and stability of the MWEB Talk service for both businesses and consumers.

‚”In addition to the high quality of the service, MWEB Talk is also simple to set-up and users’ should experience a significant reduction in their telephone bills. By implementing a VoIP service consumers and small businesses can cut their monthly telecommunication bills by up to 55% to landline and mobile numbers,‚” says Holgate.

With no subscription fee, existing MWEB customers can log into their MWEB account, register for the service and download the application for PC and Mac as well as mobile applications that turn an iPhone, Android, and Nokia smartphone into a VoIP phone. Customers will also be able to purchase a Desktop VoIP Handset for R99 which will be HD voice ready and will support multi-extensions.

‚”We believe that VoIP is the future of telephony in South Africa and we are extremely excited to see the consumer market shift into the VoIP space,‚” concludes Holgate.

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