The practicality of IPv6

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IPv6 is an Internet Layer protocol that was created to succeed the currently-used IPv4 (which will eventually need replacing). The official specification of IPv6 was released in December of 1998,[ 1 ] and after a decade it still has not become a fully-adopted Internet Protocol. While recent efforts have increased IPv6's overall internet-wide penetration,[ 2 ] IPv4 is still the dominant protocol by a vast margin. There are several issues concerning the feasibility of the overall adoption if IPv6, resulting in some doubting the very need for a completely new protocol. There is much more to the protocol than simply adding or replacing a certain piece of hardware or software, and this has lead to the situation where potential future adopters are reluctant to use the protocol, unable to see how IPv6's advantages offset its high costs; this is especially relevant for potential adopters who do not see themselves requiring more IP addresses than they already have.


IPv4 Address Exhaustion

The concept of IPv4 address exhaustion is quite simple: eventually, the internet will run out of unallocated IPv4 addresses. While the exact day for IPv4 exhaustion has not been globally established, most reports indicate that it will happen in the year 2011. The Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre believes the date of IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) address exhaustion to be June 16th 2011[ 3 ] while the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) believes this date will land in early 2011. [ 4 ]

There are several other factors contributing to the exhausting. The most significant one is also the most recent; internet-ready cellular phones can also play a significant role, especially considering the fact that these devices are common. Ununsed IPv4 addresses are also becoming more difficult to reclaim due to the advent of broadband internet; an internet method that, unlike dialup, is typically always on. Also, the potential for inefficient address use during IPv4's early days may also have caused exhaustion to occur sooner.

IPv6 Adoption

There are many issues and intricacies surrounding the adoption of IPv6. While the numbers may be considered underwhelming, the IPv6 adoption statistics may provide a perspective of what countries or platforms could be considered the most progressive in this regard.

Worldwide Breakdown

According to a Google study[ 5 ], no more than 1% of the internet traffic from 'any' country worldwide uses IPv6. Russia has the most IPv6 traffic with .76%. China, at .24%, would be argued to have more overall IPv6 volume than any other country, but in proportion its IPv6 adoption rate is still significantly smaller than some other countries. The charts below [ 5 ] give a more detailed breakdown of what the most IPv6-friendly nations are. While some countries have serveral times the amount of IPv6 traffic per capita, the overall amount of traffic (in proportion or overall) compared to IPv4 is miniscule.

Figure 1: Worldwide IPv6 Demographics[5]

Platform-wide Breakdown

Figure 2: Platform-wide IPv6 Usage[5]

The penetration of IPv6 on operating systems is far much more polarized than that of countries; Apple, the leading IPv6 user, has a 2.44% penetration rate, which is over twice that of the second-most IPv6 user, Linux (0.93%). Windows operating systems have the least overall deployment, with older operating systems using IPv6 progressively less. However, like China with respect to worldwide IPv6 usage, the overall IPv6 traffic from Windows may be the most overall, as they do have the most market share by a significant margin.[ 6 ]

Struggles with Adoption

There are many issues affecting the deployment of IPv6. Firstly, there is a tremendous financial investment for ISPs to make, which the United States Department of Commerce estimates to be around $25 billion.[ 7 ] Also, as Metcalfe's Law implies, the benefits of incremental IPv6 usage increases are small. Also, the internet security community has not been very supportive of the protocol, with less than one in three commercially available firewalls supporting IPv6.[ 8 ] ISPs may be reluctant to embrace or invest in the new protocol with such a lack of protection, and the incentives for doing so are few.[ 9 ]

Scrutiny and Criticism of the Protocol

Criticism has arose around the implementation of and the need for IPv6. IPv6 is a protocol designed to 'replace' IPv4; a protocol that 'extended' IPv4 would have been easier to implement, and as a result, a warmer reception could have ensued.[ 15 ] A point has also been raised suggesting that all internet communication should support IPv6 before it is even deployed, removing all communication issues. Others believe that the problem itself is severely overstated; a recent study suggests that under 4% of the used IPv4 addresses are connected to visible hosts.[ 16 ] This suggests that the majority of IPv4 addresses could be intellegently recycled and maintained. Also, IPv6 does not solve many of the routing problems that have plagued IPv4.[ 17 ]

Usage Statistics

The overall internet traffic with IPv6 addresses make up roughly .002% [ 10 ] of the overall traffic on the internet. This number (proportionately to itself) fluxuates significantly. Over a year-long period (between July 2007 and July 2008), IPv6 piqued at just over .008%, while it bottomed out at just over .001%.[ 9 ] While the numbers show a rather unsteady but active trend in IPv6 usage, they also show that the overall IPv6 traffic on the internet is nearly negligible regardless of how much support it has in any given country.

Internet Readiness

6bone, the IPv6 testbed, has finished all of its testing for IPv6. While this finished some time ago, it is a recent transgression given the timeline of IPv6. This puts the "functional age" of IPv6 at around 6 years, as opposed to the nearly 15 year lifespan of the project thus far. The facts that IPv6 internet traffic is near nonexistant and international support is scarce does not mean that IPv6 is being ignored. Many significant online initiatives have taken place over the last few years that will ensure rapid IPv6 support, whenever that may occur. China, for example, gave extensive coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics over IPv6, and many neighbouring Asian countries took similar initiatives.[ 11 ] The European Union has also called for 25% of its subsidiaries to switch to IPv6 by 2010.[ 12 ] This will not only increase IPv6 traffic considerably, it will also potentially boost the appeal for making the switch. All US Federal Goverment agencies are already IPv6 compliant, meaning the eventual transition will be seemless to their operations.[ 13 ] Comcast Telecommunications also recently made all of their internal network IPv6. The resouding feeling is that IPv6's current cold reception is not as significant as potential for smooth transition.[ 14 ]


  1. Deering, S. and Hinden, R. RFC 2460, Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6). The Internet Society, 1998.
  2. Das, Kaushik. IPv6 and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
  3. Huston, Geoff. IPv4 Address Report.
  4. Harris, Mark. Waiting for the Internet Meltdown. The Sunday Times, July 6, 2008.
  5. Gunderson, S.H. Global IPv6 Statistics. Google.
  6. Market Share by Net Applications,
  7. Gallagher, Michael P. IPv6 Economic Impact Assessment. US Dept. of Commerce, 2005.
  8. ICANN Security and Stability. Survey of IPv6 Support in Commercial Firewalls. ICANN, 2007.
  9. Labovitz, Craig. The End is Near, but is IPv6? Arbor Security Networks, 2008.
  10. Huston, Geoff and Michaelson, George. Measuring IPv6 Deployment. 2008.
  11. Worthen, Ben. Internet Strategy: China's Next Generation Internet. CIO, 2006.
  12. Williams, Chris. EU sets ambitious IPv6 target. The Register, 2008.
  13. Castelli, Elise. Agencies ready for next-generation Internet, OMB reports. The Federal Times, 2008.
  14. Durand, Alain. IPv6 @ Comcast. Comcast.
  15. Berstein, D.J. The IPv6 Mess.
  16. Heidemann, John et al. Exploring Visible Internet Hosts through Census and Survey. USC/ISI.
  17. Bush, Randy et al. Imminent Collapse of the Internet.

External Links

See Also

The Future of the Internet: IPv6
Internet Protocol
SSH Tunneling
Virtual Private Networks
Internet Control Message Protocol

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