Will 2012 be the Year of IPv6?

The telecommunication industry needs to be preparing now for the most significant change in the history of the Internet: specifically, the transition from Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

The telecommunication industry needs to be preparing now for the most significant change in the history of the Internet: specifically, the transition from Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

Currently, the Internet is built using IPv4, but on February 3, 2011, the global supply of unassigned IPv4 Internet addresses was exhausted. On that date, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority has distributed the final five blocks of approximately 16 million IPv4 addresses among the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).  As we enter 2012, each RIR (including ARIN, which serves Canada, parts of the Caribbean, and the United States) is carefully managing its regional pool of remaining IPv4 addresses.  The Asia-Pacific region has already exhausted its generally available IPv4 address pool, and the remaining four RIRs are all working with their respective communities to responsibly allocate the remaining IPv4 addresses.

The run out of IPv4 is a concern for every business with an Internet presence, and it is a particular concern for telecommunications organizations that provide Internet services using IP addresses. There is no time to waste in preparing to move toward the long-term solution – the adoption of the newer Internet Protocol version 6 or “IPv6.” IPv6 provides virtually limitless addresses compared to the approximately 4.3 billion addresses which are available using IPv4.

The Internet community has been predicting the “end” of freely available IPv4 space for over a decade, and the RIRs have been actively promoting early adoption of IPv6 for the last several years. However, the ability to choose to make the move is now overshadowed by the stark fact that IPv4 depletion is a reality, and continued Internet growth in an only-IPv4 world is not going to be an option.

One of the main drivers behind the need for IPv6 adoption is today’s ever-growing connected society. As International Data Corporation (IDC) puts it, 2012 will be the “Year of Mobile Ascendency” as mobile devices (smartphones and media tablets) surpass PCs in both shipments and spending. Not only is this indicative of an explosion of demand within the mobile market, it’s also a clear indication of the need for IPv6. The increasing number of Internet-enabled devices such as these will inevitably drive the need for unique addresses beyond the limits inherent to IPv4.

For some mobile carriers, IPv6 seems to take a backseat to other projects. What is it, specifically, that seems to be holding mobile carriers back? One of the biggest concerns with IPv6 adoption is planning effort that is involved.

Many carriers are concerned about the technical complexities involved in a complete transition. A successful IPv6 migration requires more than just configuring the network to carry IPv6 traffic.  In addition to making sure that the network hardware and software can support IPv6, carriers need to make sure that their network supporting services such as DHCP and domain name servers support IPv6.  While the backoffice systems and helpdesk systems don’t need to directly run over IPv6, they do need to be able to support the use of IPv6 addresses in the network.

Although the transition to IPv6 seems daunting, carriers who plan can ensure their business will survive as the Internet continues to grow.

Fortunately, many major players in the industry have already prioritized IPv6 in 2012. Telecom and cable operators have already begun to ready their networks to support IPv6. In fact, recent results from the Global IPv6 Deployment Monitoring Survey found 70% of more than 1600 organizations plan to adopt IPv6 by the end of 2012.  In addition, survey respondents indicated that their concerns about IPv6 are diminishing in most areas—including concerns about costs, knowledge, business case and vendor support. 

Another encouraging sign for IPv6 adoption was last year’s World IPv6 Day. More than 1,000 participants joined forces on June 8 to test their IPv6-configured networks.

The positive results of the Global IPv6 survey and World IPv6 Day reflect a growing awareness in the carrier community regarding the need for IPv6, and we expect that an increasing number of telecommunications carriers have added “Planning for IPv6” to their resolutions for 2012.