Ovum sees World IPv6 Launch, coordinated by the Internet Society, as a major milestone in the transition to IPv6.
For the website owners, ISPs, carriers, and network equipment and computer vendors that have been working for years to implement IPv6, today is a day to celebrate the beginning of global IPv6 services.
Rather than the 24-hour trial that occurred on last year’s World IPv6 Day, World IPv6 Launch will mark the culmination of years of effort to turn up commercial IPv6 services. After World IPv6 Launch, most leading websites will have IPv6 enabled permanently, many residential equipment vendors (including Cisco, D-Link, and ZyXEL) will include IPv6 connectivity in their default product settings, and commercial IPv6 services will finally begin a multi-year growth surge.
IPv6 supports global internet addresses
With IPv4, each public Internet host is assigned a 32-bit IP address. In a world of 7 billion people undergoing an explosion of IP-enabled devices, the limitation of IPv4 in supporting only 4.3 billion IP addresses is obvious. The use of Network Address Translation (NAT) and efforts to reclaim and recycle unused IPv4 addresses has slowed the consumption of IPv4 addresses, but the need for a new scalable protocol like IPv6 is inevitable.
In a sense, IPv4 address space has already run out, providing a sense of urgency to IPv6 deployment. In February 2011 the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) made its final allocations of IPv4 addresses to the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). The RIRs, in turn, allocate smaller blocks of IP addresses to ISPs within their regions. The RIR serving the Asia-Pacific region has the smallest remaining pool of unallocated IPv4 address space. As a result, it is limiting the number of IPv4 addresses it will allocate to ISPs in a final effort to extend availability.
The need for IPv6 is not a recent discovery. IPv6 was standardized within the IETF way back in December 1998, but for years, while IPv4 addresses seemed plentiful, it was hard to convince ISPs, carriers, and enterprises of the need to invest in IPv6 deployment. Without a critical mass of IPv6-enabled users, website owners saw no need to make the conversion either. Ovum believes that, as IPv6 services become prevalent, the cost of not migrating will eventually outweigh the cost of converting.
Deployment of IPv6 essentially creates a parallel network, and communication between IPv4 and IPv6 networks requires a transition mechanism, such as dual-protocol stacks in network elements or the use of a variety of tunneling options (6 to 4, 6 in 4, 6rd, Teredo, ISATAP). Ovum expects the transition to IPv6 to occur over a period of years, with IPv4 and IPv6 coexisting for the remainder of this decade. Ovum’s concern is whether the industry can make enough headway towards IPv6 before a shortage of available IPv4 addresses makes the cost of procrastination overwhelming.
First IPv6 commercial services are appearing
ISPs are beginning to turn up commercial IPv6 connectivity services to users. Verizon, for example, currently supports enterprise and government customers with native and tunneled IPv6 services. The Verizon LTE network is enabled for IPv6, and the company is testing IPv6 on its FiOS network. AT&T set a 2020 date for full IPv6 deployment and offers IPv6 commercial services on its U-verse network with 6rd tunnels. Comcast has turned up IPv6 services to more than 1% of its residential wireline subscribers, and Time Warner also offers IPv6 to residential subscribers.
Around the globe, Internode (Australia) supports IPv6 services with a dual-stack network, and ISPs in Hong Kong as well as KDDI, XS4ALL, and Free Telecom are all offering IPv6 connectivity.
Discussions with equipment vendors have convinced Ovum that implementing IPv6 is mainly a software or firmware issue for most network equipment, although older home residential gateways may require replacement. Most recent vintage computers and servers are IPv6 ready. Microsoft Vista, Windows 7, and MAC OSX 10.7 all have IPv6 enabled by default. Computer users can connect to a website (www.test-ipv6.com) to test the IPv6 readiness of their computer system.
For mobile devices, the Android and Apple iOS operating systems enable IPv6 by default, so when IPv6 is enabled by carriers, in many cases user’s equipment will just automatically connect to the Internet using IPv6.
David Krozier is a principal analyst in Ovum's network infrastructure practice. For more information, visit www.ovum.com/