Like many countries, Montenegro has gone through a succession of lockdowns over the past year and a half, with economic and social activity moving largely into the online sphere. COVID-19 pandemic response measures have accelerated the digital transformation in the country of about 630,000 people. But this has also stretched Internet infrastructure.
Alongside the surge in digital device use, rising broadband traffic since last year has put the Southeast European country’s network under pressure, with operators working around the clock to maintain consistent quality and service levels. In the face of the pandemic, national Internet traffic consumption has grown 30% year on year.
These new realities prompted Montenegro to take stock of its infrastructure and web protocols.
The Internet Protocol, or IP, underpins the functioning of the whole worldwide web as we know it. The protocol constitutes a set of rules, which provide the means to send packets of data reliably across a global network. IP information is attached to each packet, while every Internet-connected device or domain around the world is assigned an IP address. This enables the router to send packets to the right destination.
Current protocol no longer enough
Most Internet addresses today are based on a standard called IPv4, or “Internet Protocol version 4”, with a 32-bit structure that accommodates around 4.3 billion addresses globally. In Montenegro, some 99.9% of IP addresses are currently based on IPv4.
Increased device use, however, requires more efficient use of IPv4, as well as a faster transition to the new IPv6. This latest protocol – using 128 bits – could in principle allow exponentially higher numbers of addresses – around 4 billion times more than those currently using IPv4. An interim IPv5, incidentally, was bypassed with the finalization of the more promising IPv6 in the early 2000s.
“When networks can no longer rely on IPv4, many countries find themselves under pressure,” says Jaroslaw Ponder, Head of the ITU Office for Europe. “Initiating a comprehensive migration to IPv6 is in the best interests of the whole telecommunication ecosystem within each country. As such circumstances, ITU stands ready to support its Member States in this important, albeit often underestimated, undertaking.”
The crucial transition requires concerted actions at the country level and must normally be triggered by a strategic driver. The migration from IPv4 to IPv6 necessarily relies on substantial investment in telecommunication infrastructure, as well as investment in expertise and skills of information and communication technology (ICT) staff, particularly in public sector institutions.
A focus on short term returns, while understandable, can pose risks for countries undergoing rapid digital uptake.
Technical support in migration
In Montenegro’s case, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has provided technical assistance over the past six months to get the migration process rolling.
Since February, ITU has trained over 20 experts, mostly from public institutions, who can now share their knowledge of IPv6 and train other professionals at the country level. Between March and May, the local Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services (EKIP) supported ITU in organizing the National Workshop for Montenegro on IPv6 Strategies, policies and implementation.
Key recommendations from the workshop include:
- Establishing a national “IPv6 task force” to catalyse a systematic migration from IPv4 to IPv6;
- Carrying out the migration action plan, coordinating all related activities, ensuring clear roles and mandates among stakeholders, and monitoring the overall migration process;
- Promoting the advantages of IPv6 and offering training on the transition process for entities at all levels of the public administration, as well as in the private sector;
- Conducting a survey among operators on their IPv6 transition plans;
- Developing and formalizing guidelines for IPv6 implementation in public institutions and beyond;
- Setting up a laboratory for all tests and training associated with the transition to IPv6;
- Training experts, who could in turn train other professionals and junior staff in the methods and techniques involved in the migration to IPv6;
- Initiating pilot projects to document experiences and build knowledge, with a particular focus on public institutions as drivers of the wider country transition.
With the second phase of technical assistance now underway, ITU is coordinating with the Ministry of Economic Development, national regulator EKIP, and the University of Montenegro to set up the dedicated national IPv6 lab, which will help to ramp up rapid training.