Threat to open Internet as 32-bit addresses run out

“Increased urgency” in advancing network compatibility to the new IPv6 internet standards

A senior Internet Society (ISOC) contributor has warned of dire consequences including gradual degradation of the free and open internet that we enjoy today if the world does not start deploying and transitioning to IPv6 as a priority.

Richard Jimmerson is visiting Australia from the US-based international HQ of ISOC to present a keynote address at the Australian IPv6 Summit which was held in Melbourne this week. He said there needs to be “increased urgency” in advancing network compatibility to the new IPv6 internet standards that will extend IP addresses from the 32 bit protocols currently used under IPv4 to an almost inexhaustible protocol based on 128 bits.

“IPv4 was never designed for the global internet as we know it,” said Jimmerson who is a director of the organisation who is in charge of developing ISOC’s new Deployment and Operationlize or 'DO Hub'. “It was originally conceived for military, government and research type applications only but rapidly became a commercial platform in the 90s because of open access.

“We’ve been working on IPv6 for over 10 years and we’d made some movement but there is still a lot more work to be done. We have now reached a critical point in the evolution where address exhaustion is a reality.

“In Asia, the allocation has already been fully exhausted. Optimistic estimates suggest that Europe and the US addresses will expire by the middle of 2012. That is going to change the game.

“IPv6 adoption is now more important than ever.”

As the last of the approximately four billion IPv4 addresses available expire, Jimmerson envisages the potential for fundamental economic laws of demand and supply to attach unprecedented new costs to domain registration. Meanwhile, it opens the opportunity for large ISPs and carriers to close off parts of the Internet and control the content they deliver to customers

IPv6 is critical to the sustainability of a growing, global commercial Internet and there is a lot more work to be done in transitioning to the new standard according to ISOC which is an independent, member-based open internet thinktank helping to develop standards and policies.

Jimmerson espoused the view that IPv6 transition is already “starting to make business sense”. In many cases, IPv4 addresses now have a price attached to them both through scarcity and in the clumsy, expensive and complex solutions that are being developed so that IPv4 can limp on without new IP addresses.

“When you can no longer go directly to a domain registry and get domains because of global depletion of the resource, the value of resources that are being held by other organisations will sky-rocket,” Jimmerson said. “When ISPs and carriers have to start putting Network address translation (or NATs) inside their networks, then things are going to break. The experience we have come to expect on the net is not going to be the same behind NATs.

“Our big challenge at ISOC is to get carriers and internet service providers of all sorts along for the ride so that they start deploying IPv6.”

ISOC is bringing together various industry segments together behind the scenes and getting them talking to each other about IPv6 service providers and content providers are working together to resolve many of the issues.

Jimmerson said that large residential ISPs, gaming companies and large content providers like IPTV providers, Google and YouTube have identified the problem and they too are working closely with the IPv6 movement.

“One of the things we are doing at ISOC is developing and fostering the DO portal which will work with first adopters to share their stories and experiences in a way that will be easily accessed, understood and contributed to,” he said. It will cater to two separate audiences – those that see the need for IPv6 as well as those that have already made the transition.

“We are sure there will be a great demand for this information so we are going to leverage the relationships we have with IPv6 early adopters to generate open and free information including case studies, blogs and social media.”

Content will be translated into multiple languages and there are many organisations that have already indicated they will be providing access to the information about IPv6 transitions they have already assembled.

Jimmerson said the DO Hub is “not going to recreate resources that already exist”. It will be designed to be a “global content-generating resource” that complements existing resources them with additional information and supplements them with updated content as the knowledge base evolves.

Potential for future closed content arises “if we allow IPv6 not to be deployed”, according to Jimmerson. “Carriers and ISPs with big NATs within their networks will degrade the internet experience,” he said.

“Four or five years down the line, there is the very real scenario where some users are going to find that they can’t reach what they are looking for. It will be slower and in some cases content will just not be available.

“This is in turn going to have the big content companies also starting to find the limitations of IPv4 really tough. They will want to get their content closer to the eyeballs and they will be asking to put their content inside the network. It sounds absurd but I guarantee that that will happen.

“The large ISPs and telcos may also use this as an opportunity to start charging for services again. They can control what their users can see and it would be too tempting for them to not start charging for the privilege.

“This must be avoided and if we sit with IPv4 that is exactly where we are going. The free and open internet that we enjoy today is at severe risk if we don’t deploy IPv6. I think it is the single most important issue faced by the Internet community today.”

Jimmerson believes that we are at risk of the next new Facebook, Google or Apple success story just not getting their idea off the ground because there will not be any domain registry resources available and pressure will be exerted from established entities. In addition, emerging popular applications such as IPTV, video streaming and voice will have their innovation opportunities stifled.

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