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Sound the death knell for IPv4

James Hutchinson | April 5, 2011
2011 marks the death of Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) but companies and ISPs are largely yet to deploy its successor, IPv6. But what is the state of the market and what is holding the new protocol back?

The apocalypse is here; the 4.3 billion unique client addresses once made available by Vinton Cerf and the founders of the internet in 1977 are rapidly disappearing.

At time of writing, the global internet registry, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is depleting its last allocation of IPv4 addresses with final stock expected to go by February.

Asia Pacific regional internet registry APNIC is the next victim. Its cache of 32 million remaining addresses will be halved by August. Proposed policy indicates the final 16 million addresses will be selectively distributed only to member organisations which have a "viable IPv6 deployment strategy"; a last-ditch measure to delay the death of a standard the world has outgrown.

Much of this growth has been attributed to China and South Korea, two of the fastest growing internet economies. Australia isn't far behind though; with 9.6 million addresses distributed in 2010, it ranks fifth in speed, due to the influx of iPhones, iPads and competing mobile devices.

Each new device requires a unique address to access the internet, and there is simply not enough to go around.

Yet, none of this is particularly new. IPv4 address exhaustion was first identified in the 1980s and a task force established in 1990 was tasked with discovering a fix. The protocol's alternative and ultimate successor, IPv6, has been available for adoption since 1998.

But just under 13 years later, APNIC research indicates that only four per cent of end-user client devices surveyed in recent months would use IPv6 if forced by a compatible website or server. In a dual stack environment - where both IPv4 and IPv6 are available - only some 0.2 per cent of those devices would opt for the newer, and most current, protocol.

So why has no one made the switch?

Beating the flood

With pundits from all corners of the industry trying to progress the issue, there are hopes a "killer app" will prompt the switch to the new protocol sooner rather than later.

"If you find the enabling technology, there's no reason why you can't take advantage of IPv6 now without worrying about address exhaustion," says Qing Li, senior architect at network vendor Blue Coat.

For Internode carrier relations manager, John Lindsay, it's a matter of finding the right users.

"There's intriguing little corners of content out there now that are v6 only which have been largely put there by people who would like to see v6 adopted more rapidly," he says.

"We may find that if a huge pile of Chinese-language content was only available via v6 then you'd see an awful lot of Chinese-speaking internet users being very keen for their ISPs to support IPv6."


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