Since 1984 IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) addresses which consist of four groupings of numbers (e.g. 18.104.22.168) have been used to access the Internet. Twenty five years on and unsurprisingly the 4.3 billion addresses originally available are now running out with only an estimated 700,000 left. Previous estimates stated IPv4 addresses would be depleted by 2011 or 2012 but a more recent announcement from ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers) states this could be as soon as 2010.
The suggested replacement for IPv4 is IPv6 which provides infinitely more IP addresses due to their hexadecimal format, separated by colons e.g. 2ffe:1800:3525:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf. This is just as well, as the number of devices we use to access the Internet continues to increase.
Before we run out of IPv4 addresses completely (possibly as soon as next year), we really need to start implementing IPv6 ones. It’s just a matter of getting on and doing it!
It all sounds relatively straightforward, doesn’t it? Well you’d think so. The media and several leading Internet figures have expressed concerns that ISPs’ take up of IPv6 has been too slow and that unless adoption is accelerated we will have consumed all of the available IPv4 addresses before IPv6 is fully supported. In the worst case this would make it impossible for ISPs to accommodate any more subscribers. In reality IPv6 is already available and some ISPs are already utilising it, including Entanet. Whilst several of our competitors may not be implementing IPv6 just yet I find it hard to believe that any would be so negligent that they actually reach this crisis point without taking action. Nevertheless it is possible and if it does happen it will be you and your customers that will be affected.
To encourage adoption the European Community (EC) has set its member states a target of 25% adoption of IPv6 by industry, public authorities and households by 2010 which, if the ARIN estimate is to be believed, could be just in time. This is despite the fact that Europe actually already has the highest take up of IPv6 in the world due to its Internet backbone (GEANT) already being 100% IPv6 compatible.
So why is IPv6 take up so slow? To be able to utilise IPv6 the ISP’s network must be able to support the new addresses. This often requires investment in new and expensive equipment. Despite this being a cost that every network operator is going to have to bare eventually as complete consumption of IPv4 is inevitable, many are using lack of customer demand for IPv6 as their excuse for putting off this investment. Whilst most new hardware available on the market is already IPv6 compatible, the majority connect via existing IPv4 addresses. So is it lack of demand from customers or lack of supply from the providers, that’s the real issue?
The OECD suggests ISPs should consider adoption of IPv6 as a social and commercial opportunity, not a financial burden. I tend to agree. By making IPv6 available, the ISP holds a competitive edge as there are few early adopters within the market. Plus, IPv6 offers additional benefits such as increased security through the use of IPSec. By adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach (which seems even more pointless when the only option to wait for is the inevitable) ISPs are not only missing a competitive opportunity. They are compromising network performance and perhaps even becoming technically negligent. As an early adopter of IPv6, Entanet calls on other ISPs to explain why they are holding off. Just what is it that they are waiting for? What benefits can be obtained (apart from delaying inevitable investment) by adopting a ‘wait until we reach the crisis point’ strategy?
As a reseller (or indeed an end user customer) you will be affected by your provider’s choice of strategy. Ask them what their plans are for IPv6 adoption. Are they already IPv6 compatible and, if not, when are they planning to implement it? Existing IPv4 addresses will be consumed sooner rather than later and you need to make sure your provider has an alternative solution for you and your customers.