An IPv6 Future: Where to from Here?

By Stephane Bourque, Incognito Software Systems

IPv6 Future: Where to from Here? It's D-Day for IPv4. More than four years after first launching IPv6, North American regional Internet registry ARIN - the body in charge of handing out IP addresses in North America - has completely run out of IPv4 addresses, along with the RIRs in the Asia Pacific and Europe.

What does this mean for broadband service providers? Basically, it's time to stop the excuses. IPv6 is the future, and ignoring it could put you at risk of being left behind.

Grasping at straws

No business can truly expect to grow without IPv6. Already, the fastest-growing regions in the world - India and China - are operating in an IPv6 environment. Since officially launching only four years ago, major companies, home router manufacturers, and service providers in more than 100 countries have launched IPv6, and last year marked the fourth straight year that IPv6 use has doubled.

However, for service providers, shifting to a dual-stack IPv6/IPv4 world takes time and a great deal of planning. Upgrades to CPE [], routing changes, network planning, staff training, and IP address management are just some of the tasks (and costs) to consider. Despite these hurdles, our global survey of service providers last year indicated that 90% understand the benefits of IPv6, and the majority have started preparations. Yet only a very small percentage had actually started offering IPv6 to end-users. Given the complexity of migration, that's hardly a surprise. But with IPv4 resources fast diminishing, what's the alternative?

Many providers are grasping at straws and relying heavily on workarounds such as network address translation (NAT) to stretch existing public IPv4 resources. While this might be a suitable temporary solution, it's not realistic for the long-term - especially if you plan to grow your subscriber base. More subscribers and additional IP-connected devices will increase network complexity. This means that you will need to carefully plan how you use existing resources, resulting in more time spent on basic IP-related tasks. In a worst-case scenario, you could find yourself turning down new subscribers because you don't have room to expand.

Multiple subscribers sharing a single public IPv4 address could potentially affect the quality of service of a system that an IPv4 address uniquely identifies an Internet subscriber. NAT can also cause complications when troubleshooting and may additionally complicate law enforcement reporting in some regions.

IPv6 gives you the chance to break free of network complexity, workarounds, and the associated security problems. This is because the IP space is so big that you can actually renumber your addressing system so that it makes sense. IPv6's long numbering sequence architecture enables a hierarchical division for multiple levels of network and subnetwork hierarchies at ISP levels.

IPv6 also offers greater security than NAT by enforcing stronger firewalls, VPNs, and next-generation applications. With IPSec Support, IPv6 can run end-to-end encryption and supports more secure name resolution than IPv4, which makes name-based attacks more difficult.

Looking to the future

Forward-thinking operators have already begun their dual-stack deployment. An IPv4-only network could prove to be expensive. Providers face high prices on the IPv4 transfer market that are expected to rise as IPv4 addresses become increasingly scarce.

Over time, subscriber services such as VPNs will cease to work on IPv4, while access to next-generation apps may be limited. It's worth remembering that global companies such as Google NASDAQ:GOOG) have already deployed IPv6 and will no doubt soon launch services that require IPv6. Cutting yourself off may mean that your subscribers miss out on future apps from these providers. Shying away from IPv6 may also restrict your ability to take on partnerships with large enterprises, government bodies, or other service providers in the future.

Where to from here?

There's no question that IPv4 and IPv6 will continue to coexist for some years. But given the shortages of new IPv4 addresses, a perfect IPv4 network is far from sustainable.

The first step is to look at what changes to network infrastructure will be required to run IPv6 in parallel to IPv4. Executive buy-in is essential for a successful transition to a dual-stack environment, with our survey indicating that more than 40% of providers who have finished implementing IPv6 have done so because of a management mandate. Planning ahead will go a long way to ensure a smooth transition to a dual-protocol world. Everything will eventually migrate over to IPv6 - are you prepared?

Stephane Bourque is president and CEO of Incognito Software Systems. Reach him at

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