Cyberspace Running Out Of Room: Is IPv6 The Answer?

The growing popularity of connected smartphones, IPTV and other gadgets is eating up Internet real estate at a quick clip, and some think techies can expect cyberspace to run out

May 5, 2006

3 Min Read
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The growing popularity of smartphones, IPTV and other gadgets connecting to the Internet is eating up real estate on the net, and soon techies can expect cyberspace to run out of room, according to a Frost & Sullivan analyst briefing Thursday.

Experts say today's Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) also limits services of multimedia content and data communication, including mobile IP, P2P and video calls. With new mobile IPv6, telecommunication providers can easily roll out custom services from movies to ring tones to television.

By 2012 about 17 billion devices will connect to the Internet, estimates Research firm IDC Corp. Frost & Sullivan's principal analyst for carrier infrastructure Sam Masud agrees. "2012, that's when we estimate the world will be out of IPv4 addresses," he said. "Between 15 and 20 years isn't exaggerating."

The IPv4 Internet has room for 4.3 billion addresses. About one-third are already in use, and more than another third are spoken for. IPv6 provides 2^128 possible addresses. Compared with IPv4's 32bits, IPv6's address reads 128 bits long. Imagine the number looking something like this – 360,382,386,120,984,643,363,377,707,131,268,210,929.

Although few have made the move, challenging companies migrating to IPv6 are migrating application, network management and performance, and educating staff to make the transition.A mandate from the Office of Management and Budget states all federal networks must have the ability to send and receive IPv6 packets by mid 2008. Only 30 percent of the Internet service provider networks, however, will support IPv6 by 2010, and 30 percent of user networks by 2012, according to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the RTI International on IPv6 migration.

What will it cost government and companies to upgrade from IPv4 to IPv6? The NIST/RTI study estimates $25.4 billion between 1997 and 2025. About $1.4 billion of the burden remains on infrastructure vendors, $23.3 billion for users, $593 million for application suppliers, $136 million for Internet service providers. Masud questions if they factored in operations costs for ISPs.

Although IPv4 network support won't disappear any time soon, companies need to build transition strategies now, Masud said. Any application that interacts with the IP stack will require modifications. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) to customer relationship management (CRM) will likely not, unless they have e-mail capabilities, for example.

Some equipment manufacturers will provide the transition to the IPv6 protocol in routine upgrades, while others could charge for the features, Masud said. "Lucent says they can convert all their mobility applications to support IPv6 in about three years," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me if that self-imposed time table is extended."

There are three migration strategies from that companies can choose: dual stacks, requiring the company to operate two networks (IPv4 and IPv6); tunneling; and translation.Dual stacks require double addressing schemes, management systems and more memory for routing tables, but it's the "cleanest way to make the migration," Masud said.

Tunneling keeps the core network running IPv4, with IPv6 at the edges. The IPv6 traffic tunnels through the IPv4 core. Network Address Translation (NAT) allows local networks to connect through one machine on the Internet, and use only one address instead of many. Those running a LAN at home sharing an Internet connection through a broadband modem or router are using NAT.

Keep in mind, IPv6 offers features designed to make configuration easier. If one machine on the network is configured as a router, all other IPv6 hosts can configure themselves automatically. IPv6 also builds in IP Security, known as IPSEC, as part of the protocol. This means authentication and privacy live in the protocol, not on at the application layer. This eases IP spoofing and makes spying on someone else's data more difficult.

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