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Gap between IPv4 depletion, IPv6 adoption widens

Carriers gobble up address space with the current standard but aren't sending much traffic with the replacement

By , Network World
October 18, 2010 09:54 AM ET

Network World - With the Internet's largest-ever upgrade looming, network operators are using up address space based on the current standard -- known as IPv4 -- much faster than they are adopting IPv6, the next-generation standard.

Feds' IPv6 plan called a "game changer"

The Internet's regional registries, which dole out blocks of IPv4 and IPv6 address space to carriers, will announce on Monday that less than 5% of the world's IPv4 address space remains unallocated.

IPv4 is the Internet's main communications protocol. It uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices – 2 to the 128th power.

Overall, more than 200 million IPv4 addresses have been allocated from the so-called free pool of available IPv4 addresses since January 2010,  with most of the addresses being snapped up by Asian carriers.  

Allocation of the remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses is "imminent," according to Axel Pawlik, chairman of the Number Resource Organization, which represents the five regional registries.

"It is critical that all Internet stakeholders take definitive action now to ensure the timely adoption of IPv6," Pawlik said in a statement.

The NRO warns that the last IPv4 address blocks will be allocated from the free pool to the regional registries in early 2011. Experts predict that the registries will hand out these addresses to network operators by the end of 2011, leading to full-fledged depletion of IPv4 addresses.

Once IPv4 addresses are depleted, ISPs must give their new customers IPv6 addresses or use carrier-grade network address translation to share a single IPv4 address among multiple customers.

Despite the looming depletion of IPv4 address space, carriers are sending only a trickle of IPv6 traffic across their backbone networks.

Arbor Networks said last week in a blog post that IPv6 traffic represents less than one-twentieth of 1% of Internet traffic as of October 2010. This data came from 110 ISPs that participate in Arbor's ongoing Internet traffic measurement study.

Arbor found that most of the IPv6 traffic is via tunneling mechanisms -- primarily 6to4 -- rather than native IPv6 traffic.

This traffic data prompted Arbor Networks' Chief Scientist Craig Labovitz to write that "at this rate, we have years to go before any widespread v6 adoption."

Industry observers agree that the gap between the rate at which IPv4 addresses are being depleted and the rate of IPv6 adoption by carriers and enterprises appears to be widening.

"It comes down to the fact that people sitting at their computers or using their wireless devices are still being assigned IPv4 addresses and are looking at IPv4 content," says Chris Davis, senior director of corporate marketing communications for NTT America, which has offered native IPv6 services in the United States since 2004. "Users have to be given IPv6 addresses so they can access IPv6 traffic…You need the content to be on v6 and you need the eyeballs on v6."

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