IPv6, as an Internet numbering specification, is ready for prime time deployment
around the world. But it seems that two key essential elements that could
trigger large scale the U.S. and the Internet
Engineering Task Force aren’t ready to switch from IPv4.
The U.S., flush with IPv4 addresses, and the IETF, which is the standards-based
body responsible for designing a smooth transition to the new numbering
scheme, have been slow to adopt IPv6 specifications until the details
are smoothed out.
An IP address, in its simplest form, works just like a telephone number.
To contact your friend, you have to dial their exact phone number in order
to speak with you pal. With an IP address, the only difference is that
you use a computer or another Internet-enabled device to connect with
a specific, numeric destination. Each device has a unique 32-bit identifier
that labels both the sender and receiver to make a connection over the
The problem is, the number of IPv4 addresses are dwindling. Because the
U.S. snatched up much of the available naming space, the address squeeze
is being felt mainly in Asia and Europe. The U.S. operates the most IP
addresses in the world—roughly 3,012,735,145—more than enough
for all to be content with the IPv4 numbering specifications.
In comparison, countries like China and South Korea were left out of
the numbering land rush. Despite the fact that 1.3 billion people live
in these countries, compared to 275 million in the U.S., China and South
Korea were only allocated 38,527,336 and 23,559,640 IP addresses, respectively.
In other words, the U.S. has 22 percent of the population of China and
South Korea combined, and China and South Korea have two percent of name
space that U.S interests own.
Running on empty
The demand for additional naming space overseas comes mainly from the
rapid growth of Internet-enabled mobile devices like PDAs and 3G digital
wireless phones. To access the Internet, each device needs an IP address
to distinguish itself.
Enter IPv6, a technology that uses a 128-bit identifier to tag the sender
and receiver. In addition to the exponential increase in IP addresses
to accommodate everyone around the world, the new IP addressing scheme
allows for more tailored communications.
IPv4 addresses, with its four octets of 8-bit blocks (for example 184.108.40.206)
to identify and route Internet traffic, couldn’t adequately pack in the
information to provide secure transmissions, mark data packets as a priority
or provide security tags—something IPv6, with its 16 octets, can
Kathryn Korostoff, President of Sage
Research, Inc., said there is a lot of debate over the time the world
will actually run out of IP addresses.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about how quickly we will run out, which
is why some people have a sort of sense of panic,” she said. “The whole
premise is that the proliferation of mobile devices like laptops and PDAs
and smart phones is going to cause us to run out of IP addresses.”
She predicts that under current conditions, the world will run out of
IP addresses under IPv4 in the next two or three years, as digital wireless
phones and PDAs gain in popularity throughout the U.S. Several countries,
including China and India, have already run out of IPv4 space.
Engineers have been working for more than two years to find a solution
to migrate and integrate IPv4 and IPv6, since the two don’t naturally
mesh together. Migration tools have been proposed by scientists around
the world to find a fix.
The devil inside
The IETF is responsible for building a path for the smooth migration of
IPv4 specifications to IPv6. Back in March, however, the organization
put a halt on the development of all IPv6 migration tools so it could
get a handle on the technology before a slew of standards caused problems.
While the technology is stable today, IPv6 isn’t quite ready for worldwide
adoption because of all the migration tools required, at least according
to Margaret Wasserman, IETF next-generation and IPv6 transition working
groups co-chair, and chief technologist for Wind
River Systems, Inc.
“Technically, we’re ready today,” Wasserman said. “The core standards
are pretty much all addressed.”
But the devil, as they say, is in the details. The core standards have
a multitude of tools used to move the packets from an IPv4 to IPv6 environment
and back again.
Dual stacking, the popular standard which operates in both IP addressing
schemes, has more than eight tools that need to be approved, while the
other standard, IP tunneling, has more than five.
The IETF needs to test all the tools before they will give their seal
of approval, and called the development halt so they could at least address
the tools already made.
The IETF has stated it would open up IPv6 for tool development this summer
and expects worldwide IPv6 adoption sometime in the next couple years.
Critics say the development shutdown stifles innovation and delays an
IP addressing problem that’s already come to a head. China and India have
already run out of IP addresses and are migrating to IPv6, with or without
But Korostoff doesn’t think the rush to IPv6 should come at the cost
of skimping on the details.
“There’s a tactical benefit of the IETF wanting people to be practical,
until things are a little more settled it doesn’t make a lot of sense
to have all these tools proliferating,” she said. “I don’t think it’s
necessarily a terrible thing.”
The importance of being earnest
To get the U.S. to adopt IPv6 sooner would require much more incentive.
Unlike China and India, the U.S. doesn’t have the same incentive to switch
to an unproved technology.
“In the U.S., I’ve seen in the past six months a reduction in the urgency
of deploying IPv6,” Korostoff said. She thinks the only way the county
would put some urgency behind the move to IPv6 is when the crunch in IP
space affects U.S. businesses and its customers.
“A lot of people look at this and think the demand is coming from consumers
who want more e-mail addresses,” Korostoff said. “But we’re definitely
seeing more businesses using mobile devices in their work force.
“It’s the carrot and stick scenario—do this or else you will run
out of IP addresses, that’s the stick,” she added. “But there’s also a
couple carrots. With IPv6 there’s a lot more room in the protocol for
information about how you handle that [data] packet.”