The future of IPv6 is here, or not?

The past decade we have been following the rapid depletion of public IPv4 space using online counters and graphs. The fact that we were running out has fuelled many heated debates on the liberal assignments made by the registries in the past and the inequality between the different regions in the world. Add to this that the inception of the internet network came with an inefficient allocation scheme to begin with and that the demographics in the world have changed significantly, a standstill in the internet and ISP arena may be expected, when the registries have run out.

“Enter IPv6, the Holy Grail in internet scalability!”

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Each year is labeled as the ‘year of IPv6’, supported by big events such as the World IPv6 days. However, IPv6 traction is still low, at least in the US and Europe regions. How come? The technology to provide services on IPv6 has been ready for many years but service providers are slow in migrating to dual-stack access networks. Without mass-market consumers on IPv6 there is only limited movement. Many other elements play a big role such as the dominance of IPv4, peering wars between different Tier-1 ISPs, IPv6 knowledge and experience, etc.

Two trends work together to further slow the mass acceptance of IPv6. First, the additional costs a large enterprise or ISP needs to make to support interworking between the IPv6 and IPv4 world are significant and not without problems. There are still a number of applications such as IP Telephony that face challenges in a dual-stack world. And there are alternatives. In the old days when an ISP requested IPv4 space from the registry, they had to go through a process to justify this assignment with the regional internet registry. There was plenty of ‘grey area’ in this procedure that allowed parties to acquire and assign large chunks of IPv4 address space, but the rationale behind this all was to provide governance and guidance on IPv4 assignments, and to preserve space (at least for some time). However, with the shortage of assignable IP space the members of the registries have pushed for policy changes that facilitate in the easy transfer of resources between ISPs.

This now brings to light the main reason that IPv6 is adopted at the expected speed: there is plenty of IPv4 space available! It has been assigned, acquired or gathered by companies and individuals at some point in time, but is all unused. With the new policies in place this has created a huge market for IP brokers, facilitating in bringing together the supply and demand of IP space. Any ISP doing the business case for IPv6 deployment will discover that for any deployment the cost difference between IPv6 and buying IPv4 often favors acquiring ipv4 address space through a broker or a network partner.

In the years to come we will see a mass disaggregation of the ipv4 address space, at least in the wealthier part of the world, further burdening the ISPs networks. At the same time the rest of the world struggles with ipv6 to ipv4 interworking, solving the final issues and easing the transition for all of us.

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