Islands in the IPv6 world

By on 15 Oct 2019

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TCC provides fixed line, mobile and Internet services in Tonga.

Small island economies need to stop using their size and remoteness as an excuse for not updating their networks in line with global best current practices, according to Maile Halatuituia from the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC).

This was the key message Maile wanted to leave attendees with at last month’s APNIC 48 conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, following his presentation on TCC’s efforts to deploy IPv6 over the past 12 months.

Since Tonga connected to its first submarine cable in 2013 — linking it to Fiji and on to Australia and the USA — all its local network providers have been working to upgrade their networks to enable Tongans to benefit from the higher-speed Internet access that they now have access to. In the case of TCC, this has included a domestic fibre rollout connecting two of Tonga’s main outer islands to Tongatapu, the launch of fixed Broadband ADSL2+ and Fibre services throughout all three main islands, as well as 3G and 4G mobile deployments.

“When the cable was connected in 2013, we saw bandwidth increase dramatically – I remember on satellite we used to have 100+ Mbps bandwidth,” says Maile, who has been a network engineer with TCC since 2011.

“Two months ago (June 2019) our bandwidth capacity reached 2 Gbps both up and down. We are using between 90–100% of the total at peak hours, so I’m sure we will keep increasing our capacity to meet the growing demand.”

Infrastructure aside, TCC have also been planning how they will eventually move towards IPv6. Although deemed a lesser priority for so many years,  Maile says it has now become a “priority”, to the point that TCC hope to have it deployed on its broadband network by the end of 2019.

Playing with IPv6 will give you a greater appreciation of how easy it is

TCC first started discussing IPv6 in 2007 following its first network audit. Like many of these first IPv6 discussions, not much eventuated until its second audit in 2012, prior to the submarine cable landing, during which time network upgrades were IPv6-capable.

However, Maile says the key catalyst for their IPv6 project didn’t happen until September 2018, following his fellowship to attend APNIC 46 in New Caledonia.

“It was here that I participated in an IPv6 routing workshop and got to meet with other network engineers who were planning or had deployed IPv6 on their networks,” says Maile.

“The experience made me realize how ready we were to deploy IPv6 – most of our network was already IPv6-capable from the upgrades we did five years ago, and most operating systems and app and end-user devices were also capable.

“But perhaps more importantly I returned to work with practical steps to help kickstart discussions and start playing (testing) with the protocol, with the support of Mr Tevita (HOS) and Mr Iki (CTO).”

During this test phase, Maile said he and his team discovered that an upstream provider (Upstream A) of TCC’s primary peering partner in Fiji, Fintel, wasn’t able to connect to Google via IPv6. The temporary solution they were provided with was having to use a tunnel service. Obviously, this was not an ideal situation.

The more practical solution became apparent to Maile and his team when they asked Fintel if they could ask their second upstream (Upstream B) if they would consider peering via IPv6, which they eventually agreed to after a few months. “Now our IPv6 traffic goes to and from the IPv6 world through Fintel’s Upstream B instead their Upstream A,” he says.

Maile says this was an important lesson in terms of what to look for in peering partnerships as well as the value of having good relationships with your peering partners.

Watch Maile’s presentation for further insights into TCCs IPv6 testing. His slides are also available to view [PDF 4.5 MB].

Fixed first, mobile second

TCC is concentrating on its broadband services first with a view to make its mobile network IPv6-capable in the coming years.

In terms of a transition mechanism, they chose dual-stack because Maile says it “readily supports all devices. And because there is a failover between the two protocols if there was an issue”, a point he says was very useful recently when IPv4 access via one of its upstream providers was not working but IPv6 continued without any issues.

Other important considerations that TCC needed to consider in their configuration included the need to:

  • Use 6VPE to carry IPv6 prefixes across their IPv4 MPLS backbone.
  • Enable dual-stack for end-users as a means to offload its CG-NAT load (NAT + firewall).

Although TCC is not running its broadband IPv6 traffic through a NAT, Maile says the practice is ‘ingrained’ in TCC’s network at this stage, particularly its mobile network – this is a primary reason why they have delayed deploying IPv6 on it.

“Unfortunately, NAT has been the most cost-effective means to run our mobile network.  But that’s starting to change,” he says.

“The mobile team are in the process of increasing the size of its firewall to accommodate the growing amount of traffic that it’s having to deal with – remember our NAT is behind our firewall. As such this has allowed us to champion for IPv6 as a solution, given the ongoing costs that will be associated with the continual need to upgrade and maintain NAT and firewall infrastructure.”

Mobile aside, Maile is excited by the team’s progress and impending launch of IPv6 over the broadband network.

“We’ve conducted all the tests and are just waiting on a few internal processes to be sorted out before we fully enable it to the rest of our fibre and ADSL customers, hopefully by the end of the year.”

Maile’s key lessons for deploying IPv6

  • Look at what you have — If you’ve upgraded your network in the last 10 years it’s likely that it is IPv6-capable. Same goes for CPE. Not needing to invest heavily in new infrastructure will make the decision to deploy IPv6 a lot easier for your managers and finance department.
  • Start playing with IPv6 — We all know the theory (not that a refresh can’t hurt), however, it isn’t until you start testing and playing with the protocol, not just in your lab but on your network, that you’ll get an appreciation for how easy it is to deploy (and for how much simpler it will make your network).
  • Assistance is everywhere — We tend to think that being on remote islands we don’t have access to the newest resources or advice. This is simply not true. The Internet has bought resources to us in the form of online courses and YouTube videos. There are also plenty of opportunities to further your education through short courses and workshops such as those offered by APNIC. Moreso, there are so many people in our industry that are happy to provide their expertise and assistance to help you understand and troubleshoot situations. You just have to ask.
  • Nominate a champion — It helps to have someone who is enthusiastic to learn and teach others about IPv6, and who has the support of the company to see the strategy through to the end.
  • You owe it to your customers — TCC’s vision is to be ‘Tonga’s number one service provider for ICT solutions’. Providing our customers with IPv6 first gives us an edge over our competitors and shows that we are committed to providing them with the latest technology and Internet experience.

Maile wishes to thank the APNIC Foundation for sponsoring his attendance to APNIC 48 as a speaker. He also wishes to thank the APNIC Training staff for the technical assistance they have provided throughout the project and his supervisors Mr Tevita (HOS) and Mr Iki (CTO) for supporting the project.

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