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IPv6 uptake still slow despite looming address crunch

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Analysis Even though many ISPs have begun offering IPv6 services to customers, uptake and use of the next-generation internet technology remains low, according to a European Commission-funded study published last week.

The most comprehensive survey of the subject to date found that misconceptions about the cost of deployment are delaying adoption of the next-generation internet technology, according to the Number Resource Organisation (NRO), one of five regional agencies that administer the allocation of IP addresses.

IPv6 was established as a replacement for IPv4, the current generation of internet protocol, in 1995. IPv4 has a 32-bit address space offering up to 4.3 billion addresses. IPv6 offers 128-bit addresses and therefore offers a vastly increased address space.

The migration to IPv6 is needed for this increased address space and because it offers advantages in mobility and security (at least in theory - the transition could be painful, as an earlier El Reg article explains).

The EU-backed study comes when the available list of IPv4 address is diminishing. Networking experts have warned for years of a looming IPv4 crunch. The use of Network Address Translation technology - which means corporate systems sit behind a firewall that displays only a limited number of IP addresses to the world - have helped to stave off this evil day. But with millions of consumers in countries such as China coming online, and widespread use of smartphones from the likes of Apple and HTC, the IPv4 exhaustion problem has become a reality.

Less than six per cent of the current form of IP addresses, IPv4, remains. This remaining number of 14 from a total poll of 256 address blocks might be exhausted in as little as 244 days, according to a counter maintained by Hurricane Electric.

The study, which polled more than 1,500 organisations (58 per cent of which were ISPs) from 140 countries, found that 84 per cent of organisations already have IPv6 addresses or have considered requesting them. Only a minority - 16 per cent - of those quizzed have no plans to roll out the technology.

Half of all questioned said the cost of deployment was a major barrier for IPv6 adoption, a stance NRO reckons is likely to lead to greater cost in the long run. Three in five (60 per cent) of those polled cited shortcomings in vendor support as a major barrier for deployment, despite the fact the latest generation of network kit and computing systems all support IPv6. Cisco, for example, began supporting IPv6 on its routers and switches back in 2001. Mac OS X has supported IPv6 since 2006, and Windows has offered baked-in support of the technology since the introduction of Vista.

Finding suitably knowledgeable technical staff was cited as a barrier to IPv6 roll-outs by 45 per cent.

Organisations need to make sure that their ISP offers or plans to offer services over IPv6, or else end-users will be unable to enjoy the benefits of the technology. Most of the ISPs polled (60 per cent) either already offer IPv6 to consumers, or plan to offer it within the next year. 70 per cent plan to offer IPv6 services to businesses over the same time period. Only one in 10 ISPs quizzed marked themselves out as technology laggards by saying they had no plans to offer IPv6 technology, a group one industry expert said would be like being a "home-building contractor with no empty lots" once the IPv4 address pool dries up.

Axel Pawlik, Chairman of the NRO, said more organisations are waking up to the need to deploy IPv6 services while noting that actual use of the technology is still low.

"There is still a distinct lack of Internet traffic over the next addressing protocol, with not enough ISPs offering IPv6 services and 30 per cent of ISPs saying the proportion of this traffic is less than 0.5 per cent," said Pawlik. "It’s critical that ISPs now take the next step in the global adoption effort by offering IPv6 services to their customers to help boost traffic over IPv6."

Per Blixt, Head of Unit in the Information Society and Media at the European Commission, said in a statement: "It’s critical that those who are still sitting on the fence act now on IPv6. Only by ensuring that all organizations adopt IPv6 can we ensure the sustainable growth of the digital economy worldwide."

The 2010 edition of the study is a follow-up to a study last year that focused on Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia and the Pacific. A complete copy of the more comprehensive 2010 edition of the survey can be found here (pdf).

Advice on how organisations might go about trying to plan and support IPv6 roll-outs can be found on the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN) website here, along with ARIN's stats on IPv4 and IPv6 address requests here. ®

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