The global Internet industry reached a key milestone on June 6 when a group of Web sites, Internet service providers (ISPs) and router manufacturers banded together to participate in the World IPv6 Launch.
Google, Facebook and Yahoo have flipped the switch to the new Internet addressing system, while ISPs such as Japan’s KDDI and India’s HNS will permanently enable IPv6 for a significant portion of their residential wireline subscribers. Home networking equipment manufacturers will also turn on IPv6 by default in home router products.
The World IPv6 Launch was organised by the Internet Society as part of its mission to ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible for everyone, including five billion people who have yet to connect to the Internet.
“The support of IPv6 from these thousands of organizations delivers a critical message to the world: IPv6 is not just a ‘nice to have’; it is ready for business today and will very soon be a ‘must have’,” said Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer of Internet Society in a statement Wednesday.
Last April, Asia-Pacific became the first region in the world to run out of IPv4 addresses. Europe will deplete its allocation of IPv4 addresses later this year, followed by the U.S. in 2013, and Latin America and Africa in 2014. With IPv6, the Internet can now support over 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses compared with 4.3 billion addresses for IPv4.
“Understanding the importance of IPv6, some governments in Asia Pacific have committed to enable IPv6 in their internal networks with set deadlines and, given that they run such large networks, having them on IPv6 is a big step in itself,” said Rajnesh Singh, regional director of the Internet Society’s Asia-Pacific bureau.
The Singapore Government, for instance, has spearheaded an initiative to make e-government services accessible via IPv6. The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has also started an IPv6 transition programme that offers grants and information for companies that intend to implement IPv6 on their networks.
With the launch of IPv6, consumers can expect to see applications and services that take advantage of IPv6′s features. Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system will also favour IPv6 connectivity over IPv4.
According to Nishant Shah, research director at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, IPv6 has an in-built security protocol called IPSec, which authenticates and secures all IP data. The data carrying capacity of IPv6 networks is also going to be higher.
“This means that more devices with more features will be able to work seamlessly through these networks. Despite the larger load of information, IPv6 packets are easier to handle and route, just like postcards with pincodes in their addresses are easier to deliver than those without”, Shah said in a joint statement with Tata Communications.
As an example, every aspect of the Beijing Olympics – from security surveillance to managing vehicles and media coverage – was done over IPv6. “The Chinese government, in fact, has already launched a ‘China Next Generation Internet’ project to build IPv6 networks which are going to radically change the face of high-speed internet in the country,” Shah revealed.
With all these benefits, why does IPv6 only command two percent of the world’s Internet traffic? Shah offers two clear reasons:
The first one is that of costs and infrastructure. The IPv6 platforms do not communicate easily with the IPv4 networks. We have the choice of a mammoth transition of all IPv4 websites and networks to new IPv6 protocols. This idea of abandoning IPv4 and moving to a new protocol is not only redundant; it is also futile, because IPv4 is already running the largest network in human history quite efficiently.
What we need are translators which will be able to speak to both the different versions and help our devices work through them seamlessly. Older, more successful technologies have been able to do this. So, television, for instance, whether it receives terrestrial data, satellite images or data transferred via cable, is able to translate and render them into images and sounds which we can consume with ease. However, the translators for the IPv4 – IPv6 are still expensive and we need more resources diverted towards making them affordable.
The second reason is linked to the first. In order for IPv6 to become popular, it needs a minimum threshold of service providers and users riding that network. As long as the deployment remains nascent, there will be no concentrated energy to actually try and make the bridges between versions 4 and 6. While global technology organisations like Tata Communications are ready for the transition, we are going to need a systemic change among all stakeholders to make IPv6 a reality, towards a faster, safer and more robust Internet.