Australian comms industry needs to take lead in IPv6 adoption: Expert

Lots of expertise being generated as more and more organisations sign up to the new 'net standard

Australia is in pole position to play a leading role in the broad adoption of the IPv6 internet according to an international expert on the 132 bits-based IP standard that has been touted as the answer to IPv4 address exhaustion challenges.

Speaking at the Australian IPv6 Summit being held in Melbourne this week, Latif Ladid, the International President of the independent IPv6 Forum pointed to the rapid growth of internet connectivity devices in Asia as one of the key drivers in the need to transition to a new internet addressing system.

With an estimated 15 billion internet devices globally set to be online by 2015 and approximately two billion IPv4 addresses available, most already being used, clearly something has to give. The issue is particularly pertinent in Asia as the region ran out of its global allocation of IPv4 addresses in February this year.

“Australia has a very special opportunity to play a leadership role in who is going to benefit from the adoption of the IPv6 standard,” Ladid said. “This country has the talent, experience and relative maturity in internet solutions to help transition high growth Asian economies headed by China and India to IPv6.

“Australia has been closely involved in IPv6 from the very beginning. There is a lot of expertise being generated and a lot of organisations here have signed up to the standard. The opportunity is there to now start packaging solutions and shipping them to their neighbours.

“The biggest internet users in the future are going to be Asian nations and someone is going to have to make IPv6 happen for them as there are simply no more IPv4 addresses left. Australia and Australian organisations need to start promoting themselves as the IPv6 powerhouse of the region.”

However, another expert claims there are many issues still to be surmounted before IPv6 provides any utopian solution to global IP address exhaustion challenges. Geoff Huston, Chief Scientist at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) also presented at the IPv6 Summit. He said that running out of IPv4 addresses is “an extremely difficult problem” that the whole industry is facing and “there is no silver bullet”.

“I don’t think it is readily appreciated that once you have built a global network based on one protocol, one network and one set of services, individuals can’t just run away into left field and do something different,” Huston said. “If they do that they are cutting themselves off from the network.”

“As users we have all benefitted greatly from IP as an architecture and the benefit has been in the dismantling of vertically integrated services that resisted change and innovation through closed architecture.

“All of a sudden we pulled apart this vertical integration and created the opportunity to compete at the fibre, services or access level. Making communications protocols open created the opportunity to innovate. Talk to people like the founders of Cisco, Google and Facebook about what sort of potential that opens up.”

Huston said that the last 10 years has been “brilliant for almost all of us in the industry” with perhaps the traditional infrastructure owning telco entities being the ones to miss out on the “savage transformation”.

“By and large they are not participating in the services economy,” Huston said. “They are trying to do the rest of the stack and increasingly they are finding this is really tough going.

“So when we look at who is going to do all of the work in transforming the world from IPv4 to IPv6, it is the carriage people who have to upgrade their infrastructure. And, guess who is going to make all the money from the transformation? It is the service providers.

“That structural disconnect is proving very challenging here and now because when we run out of IPv4 addresses, as is the case now, the carriers will be the ones who have to make the investment and the evidence is there that they haven’t done that.

The IPv6 Forum’s Ladid said that despite only representing approximately 1.2 per cent of total internet traffic, Australia is fifth on the global list of registered IPv6 prefixes and the leader in Asia. Telstra has committed to providing IPv6 services and is investing in infrastructure to support it and AARNet claims to have been IPv6 ready for 10 years.

“Australia really has to take this as a geopolitical tool to become the powerhouse neighbour to growth economies that knows how to deploy this technology,” Ladid said. “It needs to lead the way in deploying broadband so that applications such as IPTV, voice and mobile internet access using the IPv6 standard.”

Ladid added that there is significant risk in displaying “blissful ignorance” to the opportunity as someone else will happily step in to fill in the breach. China already has enormous challenges in providing a single address for all its existing users, he said and telcos there have resorted to complex sharing solutions that work but are very difficult and expensive to manage.

“IPv6 is where the growth in internet connectivity and content will have to be serviced as there is simply no more IPv4 addresses left for new customers,” Ladid said. “They are desperate for better solutions to grow the internet economy.

“It will be a missed opportunity if Governments and industry don’t fund and foster research and development in IPv6 and this major upgrade to the internet. It would represent strategic investment in a high value area of the global economy that is only going to continue growing in the foreseeable future”

As well as providing the opportunity to host hundreds of years worth of new IP addresses even at compound growth rates, the latest IP standard provides significant advantages in automatic connectivity, mobility, multicasting and creating networks on the fly. Every Windows and Apple device manufactured in at least the last four years has been IPv6 enabled but internet usage is still largely based on IPv4 addresses which at present are not backward compatible.

And therein lies the big issue, according to Bruce Morgan, AARNet’s Operations and Peering Manager who also presented some metrics at the conference on IPv6 usage across its customer and partner base.

“Users don’t really care about IPv6,” Morgan said. “They just want connectivity. Getting the two standards to talk to each is attracting a lot of development attention at the moment from some of the leading communications experts in the world.

“It could just be that reaching out to IPv4 will prove to be the killer app for IPv6.”

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