There is cautious optimism among IPv6 observers as greater awareness and an exploding number of IP-enabled devices drive more organisations to support the new Internet Protocol version.
IPv6 provides about 340 undecillion IP addresses, compared to the 4 billion addresses supported by IPv4. As the number of Internet-connected devices has grown, exhaustion of IPv4 addresses has necessitated the adoption of IPv6.
The Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), the regional Internet registry for the Asia Pacific, has earmarked 8681 /32 IPv6 address blocks for Australia. A single IPv6 /32 block is 79,228,162,514,264,337,593,543,950,336 addresses.
Actual adoption of IPv6 continues to be small – nearly 4 per cent, according to estimates by Google and other IPv6 trackers.
However, the rate of adoption has been increasing year after year, according to Bruno Goveas, Akamai director of products for Asia Pacific and Japan.
Globally, Akamai serves about 20 billion IPv6 requests per day, which is double the number of requests from six months ago, he said. That only represents 7 to 8 per cent of all Internet traffic served by Akamai, but the growth rate is strong, he said.
“We’ve come a long way from where it was a couple years back when it was 1 to 2 per cent,” he said. “It’s definitely tracking upwards, and I definitely expect that to continue.”
At some point, IPv6 adoption will begin to grow exponentially, said Goveas, predicting the tipping point could occur in 18 months.
“The technology is proven,” he said, “but everyone has limited budget dollars, so there has to be some catalyst to force it.”
Narelle Clark, president of the Internet Society of Australia, said she has seen this year a surprising uptick in interest and progression of the conversation around IPv6.
While IPv6 adoption is still quite low, deployment is “quietly happening” at a number of organisations, while others have begun serious management-driven and funded projects, she said.
“It seems to be steady as she goes,” she said. “People are increasingly factoring it into their plans.”
“I would obviously like things to be much more widely adopted and the conversion was already well under way, but to get to that final stage of conversion it’s really going to take some serious scarcity [of IPv4 addresses].”
“We can be optimistic,” agreed APNIC director-general Paul Wilson. The signs are good but we’re not out of the woods yet he added.
There is not yet a dire need driving organisations to support IPv6, he said. “People can go on avoiding it for as long as they like for quite some time at least.”
Most Internet businesses are aware of the need to move to IPv6, but not all of them have plans, he said. Of greater concern are non-Internet businesses who are not as tuned into tech issues, he said.
APNIC has been trying to get the message out, but has been careful not to create a “false” sense of urgency, believing such a doomsday approach could backfire, he said.
Australia vs. the world
IPv6 adoption in Australia is less than 1 per cent, according to Google and Akamai figures. As of this writing, Google estimates that 0.58 per cent of the Internet requests it received from Australia were IPv6.
By comparison, Google has the US at 8.43 per cent adoption, Germany at 8.8 per cent, France at 5.14 per cent, Japan at 3.73 per cent and China at 0.78 per cent. But Australia is still ahead of many other countries, including the UK (0.14 per cent) and Russia (0.22 per cent).
A recent State of the Internet report by Akamai showed that European countries led in IPv6 adoption in the first quarter of 2014, taking eight of the top 10 slots. The US and Peru took the other two slots, leaving the Asia-Pacific region unrepresented.
“Australia is lagging fairly far behind a lot of the advanced economies,” said Wilson. But it is also in the middle of a long tail of low adopters, he said.
As one of the earliest adopters of the Internet, Australia is a very mature market with a large supply of IPv4 addresses, Wilson added.
“I’m sure Australia is not way behind in terms of awareness or the potential to roll it out in reasonably good time when the need arises.”
In the US, there was not much adoption until big mobile operators began major network deployments requiring more addresses, Wilson said.
In April, the North American IP address registry, ARIN, announced it was onto its last pool of IPv4 addresses. In June, Microsoft revealed it had run out of US IPv4 addresses and forced to dip into its international stock of addresses for Azure.
Clark noted that the Chinese government in April pledged a whopping $3.4 billion for IPv6 transition efforts.
“With that amount of money committed, that means they are developing real scale in delivery and take up and they know it’s important,” she said.
Australia does not need to invest as much money as China, but businesses here should certainly include IPv6 as part of their normal upgrade cycle, she said.
In the Asia Pacific, APNIC has started to allocate previously used IPv4 addresses, but Clark said businesses should not be tempted by these recycled goods. It’s possible the IP address belonged to a spammer or other irresponsible previous owner and it could still be blocked by some networks around the world, she said.
Reaching the tipping point
Three things need to happen to bring about exponential growth for IPv6, said Akamai’s Goveas.
First, there need to be government mandates requiring that certain public-facing websites be IPv6 compatible. The US issued such a mandate in 2012.
A second factor is an explosion of IP-connected devices and the rise of the Internet of Things, said Goveas.
There are not enough IPv4 addresses to support the IoT, agreed Clark. As homes add more and more IP-enabled devices like smart TVs, more IP addresses will be required than IPv4 can provide, she said.
A Cisco Visual Networking Index update released in June predicted that globally by 2018, nearly 50 per cent of all fixed and mobile devices or connections will be IPv6 capable, up from 16 per cent in 2013.
Goveas said a third catalyst will be even greater awareness among businesses that have a significant online presence. As they notice IPv6 requests trend upwards, more attention will be paid to ensuring those users have an optimal experience, he said.
While government mandates drove growth a couple years ago, Goveas said that the third factor about awareness has done most to drive IPv6 growth in the past year.
Wilson stressed the critical need for organisations to support IPv6.
“The beauty of the Internet … is that it has produced a single global network where any device can connect to any other device,” he said.
“Because it is an open network, anyone can deploy a new service on that network—any kid in any part of the world can put something up on the Internet and have it accessible by anyone. But that only lasts as long as the address space lasts.” Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam