IPv6 Adoption: Where Are We?
Why haven't we switched to IPv6 yet? What are the main obstacles hindering full-scale IPv6 adoption? Continue reading to learn all about this.
In 2022, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the World IPv6 Launch Day, a coordinated test event that the Internet Society (ISOC) originally organized on June 6, 2012. The day signifies the beginning of global, wide-scale IPv6 adoption.
The purpose of the World IPv6 Launch Day was to encourage organizations, like internet service providers and web companies, to test their services and evaluate their capabilities in face of the global exhaustion of the IPv4 space.
Today, almost a decade later, only 20.9% of all websites support IPv6.
Although IPv6 has been deployed for a while now, the first major version of the Internet Protocol – IPv4 – has not disappeared. On the contrary, it is still the dominant IP version. So, why was IPv6 created? What do the global IPv6 capability trends tell us? Can IPv6 replace IPv4 completely? Let’s dive into these critical questions.
History of Internet Protocol version 6
IPv6 was first introduced in 1995 by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to address IPv4 exhaustion caused by the global expansion of networks. IPv6 is, arguably, superior to IPv4, a version that can offer an extremely limited number of IP addresses – around 4.29 billion.
In comparison, the 128-bit addressing scheme of IPv6 can offer 340 trillion trillion trillion or 3.4×1038 unique combinations. Needless to say, this number of IPv6 addresses should be more than enough to satisfy the growing demand for IPs. Theoretically, we will never run out of IPv6.
Even though IPv6 was designed as a substitute for IPv4, there’s little evidence suggesting a full replacement any time soon. In fact, it is unknown when or even if IPv6 deployment will reach 100%.
Well, if IPv6 is considered the more advanced version of the Internet Protocol, why haven’t we ditched IPv4 already?
Switching from IPv4 to IPv6 is not easy
If switching to IPv6 was simple, we would already run the internet on it. However, there are still plenty of challenges related to the full adoption of IPv6. These include:
- Hardware limitations
- Huge infrastructure costs
- Lack of training and skills
Due to hardware limitations, serious deployments of IPv6 on a larger scale are restricted. The truth is that many older devices, including personal computers, are compatible with IPv4 only. Also, many routers and servers do not support IPv6, which means that IPv6-compatible devices might have difficulties connecting to the IPv4 network.
As a result, internet users need to make sure that their equipment is compatible with IPv6. The good news is that most operating systems support it. These include Windows, Linux, Android and iOS. Essentially, if users update their hardware, it should work with IPv6 smoothly.
When it comes to full IPv6 migration, all the resources, applications and software must operate smoothly. Karolis Šimėnas, Chief Product Owner at IPXO, explains that the number of “IPv6-only resources are almost non-existent,” which slows down the deployment of IPv6 on a large scale overall.
Since IPv4 and IPv6 are different versions of the Internet Protocol, they cannot communicate directly. Fortunately, the IPv4/IPv6 dual-stack technology offers a solution to the compatibility issue and, consequently, extends the usability of IPv4.
Huge costs and lack of training further impede IPv6 adoption
Another issue related to the wider IPv6 deployment is that companies need to invest in new infrastructure. Investments in the infrastructure of corporate networks involve huge costs. Not to mention the ongoing efforts to further maintain the compatibility to IPv4 since it still is a dominant network protocol.
Needless to say, technical challenges and expensive implementation might discourage many businesses from switching to IPv6. Therefore, we are likely to continue using IPv4 along with IPv6 for many years to come.
Vaidotas Januška, Chief Technology Officer at IPXO, agrees that companies need significant investments in the infrastructure to support the new protocol version. He also believes that the migration to IPv6 is further delayed because small businesses do not have the necessary resources to upgrade the infrastructure.
Furthermore, network administrators need training and skills to manage the IPv6 address space successfully. According to Šimėnas, due to high migration costs and complex processes, network engineers are often hesitant about the full shift to IPv6.
As IPv6 adoption is stalling, IPv4 remains the dominant IP version. Unfortunately, we have completely exhausted IPv4 addresses, and small to medium-sized companies often do not have the funds to buy the resources they need, which stunts their growth.
The good news is that IPv4 leasing can help fix the unbalanced supply and demand chain of IPv4 addresses. IP holders can monetize unused resources, and smaller companies can lease the resources they need to scale at low upfront costs. This can also help companies during the transition to IPv6.
Where are we now with IPv6 adoption?
Many countries have been migrating to the latest version of the Internet Protocol in recent years. According to Google’s Per-Country IPv6 adoption statistics, at the time of publication, India was the leader with the highest percentage of IPv6 connectivity at 61.09%.
The high rate of IPv6 implementation in India can be explained by mobile network operators adding more subscribers to IPv6. For example, Reliance JIO – India’s biggest telco – had 358 million users in 2021.
Germany follows India with a steady increase in IPv6 deployment and is currently at 55.26%. A considerable change compared to 2019, when IPv6 capability was 43.82%, as reported by George Michaelson for the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC).
According to Google, major US networks are currently falling behind with 46.54%. Surprisingly, according to APNIC, IPv6 connectivity was at 56.49% in 2019. Why did the US step back? IPv6 deployment fluctuated because more people worked from home at the beginning of the pandemic than in 2021.
It is estimated that all US mobile carriers combined support 87% of IPv6 deployment. This shows that mobile networks drive the deployment of IPv6 to simplify operations and network scalability.
Of course, IPv6 adoption is not this resonant everywhere.
Global IPv6 adoption has a long way to go
Multiple regions globally do not show notable advances towards IPv6 deployment. This list involves many African countries. For example, Nigeria, Morocco, Libya, Sudan and many other countries in the continent are not even close to 1% readiness.
We can observe similar tendencies in the Caribbean region. For example, Haiti has only a 0.05% adoption rate and Cuba – 0.3%. Of course, Cuba has widespread connectivity restrictions, and it is unlikely that we will witness notable changes in IPv6 deployment soon.
According to APNIC’s data, Pakistan appears to be moving from zero availability in 2020 and getting closer to a 5% adoption rate, a great progress towards a higher proportion of IPv6 capability. With a significant portion of the population using the internet (61.34 million people), even small changes can impact how much traffic goes through IPv6.
Nonetheless, according to Google’s IPv6 adoption statistics, on a global scale, the availability of IPv6 has not surpassed 40% in early 2022. Šimėnas claims that small population countries and small networks find the switch to IPv6 less relevant, at least for now.
These countries cannot finance new technologies required to switch to IPv6 fully. Moreover, some countries do not have significant internet populations to drive the migration to IPv6. So, even though IPv6 deployment is growing, we are still far from wide-scale adoption.
What’s next for IPv6 and IPv4?
What can we tell from this mixed bag of IPv6 deployment rates? While some companies decide to kick IPv6 into the long grass, others choose to take the leap and start deploying IPv6. However, most networks are likely to continue running their traffic on both IPv4 and IPv6 for years to come.
It is also important to note that, in the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic altered network traffic patterns. An increasingly large portion of the population works from home. As a result, we can expect that IPv6 availability will continue to grow.
Ultimately, experts believe that the internet will continue to run on IPv4 for the foreseeable future, regardless of the IPv6 deployment rates. As we await a wider adoption of IPv6, we need to find ways to manage IPv4, a resource that is, effectively, exhausted.
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