A lot of people ask whether IPv4 address exhaustion is really an issue. That's a fair question, and the answer is that the continued growth of the Internet is absolutely dependent on IPv6, the successor to IPv4, being deployed on a global scale.
Luckily we have seen some phenomenal progress in recent years, as many key players have finally put their IPv6 plans into action.
The reason this transition is such a big priority is that there are only 4.3 billion addresses in IPv4, which remains the predominant Internet Protocol version in use today. However, as far back as 2012 there were already some 8.7 billion devices connected to the Internet, and Cisco estimates that 50 billion devices will be online by 2020. The Internet of Things will be a key driver in this respect. Today there is an acute shortage of unused IPv4 addresses, with key IPv4 exhaustion milestones reached in every region in the world apart from Africa. A lack of addresses is putting pressure on networks that are looking to grow or add new customers.
Thankfully, after a slow start, the transition is starting to gain some serious momentum. Over 15% of Internet users are now reaching Google over an IPv6 connection and 29% of networks worldwide are capable of forwarding IPv6-based Internet traffic. Facebook, Netflix, Google, YouTube, Cloudflare and other key players are reachable over IPv6, while Apple now requires all apps in its store to be IPv6-enabled. In the UK, Sky Broadband has rolled out IPv6 to its customers and and BT has started its implementation.
In the past, smaller networks often cited a lack of IPv6 deployment at the top as a reason to postpone their own deployment. There was a certain logic to this - after all what's the point of adopting IPv6 if no one else is using it? However, now that the bigger players have demonstrated their commitment to IPv6, we're starting to see a network effect develop. The United States, Germany and Greece are almost at 30% while Belgium leads the world at 47%. As most Internet traffic is concentrated to a relatively small number of IPv6-enabled websites and services, most of which are IPv6-enabled, there are indications that a network that enables IPv6 today will immediately see anywhere from 50-80% of its traffic moving across IPv6.
This transition is more complicated than just flipping a switch. IPv6, which has 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses, is not backwards-compatible with IPv4. Both protocols have to be run simultaneously until enough people have moved to IPv6. Many network operators have been working with IPv4 their whole careers, and may require additional training, and equipment may also need to be upgraded or replaced. However, these are easy obstacles to get past with a little planning, and training and other resources are available.
While there has been a lot of progress towards IPv6 deployment, there remains plenty of work to be done in terms of raising awareness of the need for IPv6 and supporting operators who are planning their deployments. In many cases, technical staff are well aware of the need for IPv6 but management needs to get on board. As it takes time to plan an IPv6 deployment, businesses should commit to getting started now or they may find themselves encountering issues with interoperability further down the line. There are significant benefits in terms of cost-saving and future proofing for businesses that take a proactive approach rather than rushing a deployment as the Internet around them moves to IPv6.
Customers should also get in the habit of asking providers whether their services are available over IPv6. Internet.nl has a great tool that you can use to find if your Internet connection, website or email is IPv6-enabled. This may help to send a message to providers: that it's time to get serious about IPv6.
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