IPv4: The Future of a Legacy Protocol

When I talk about the recent significant uptick of IPv6 adoption to IT decision makers that aren’t necessarily paying any special attention to IPv6, I'm always a bit surprised by the mild astonishment they express.


When I have the chance to ask them, they often respond that — given all the previous warnings about the impending exhaustion of IPv4 and the coming of IPv6 they’d heard — at some point they stopped paying attention. 


Even for someone like myself who’s ostensibly much more focused on IPv6, adoption trends in different countries can change very quickly. Time and again we witness the effects of a single major provider’s enablement of IPv6 on subsequent levels of IPv6 user traffic.


Three recent examples from different global regions effectively demonstrate this trend.


Switzerland: 10 Days in June


Back in June, Swisscom’s Martin Gysi gave a presentation at the IPv6 Business Conference sponsored by the Swiss IPv6 Council.


In it, he highlighted Swisscom’s success in enabling IPv6. According to the presentation 67% of their customers were dual-stacked with greater than 20% of Swisscom’s total traffic over IPv6 (Figure 1).



Figure 1: Swisscom IPv6 statistics


And in looking at the overall Swiss Internet traffic hitting Google over IPv6 you can easily detect exactly when they “flipped the switch.” (Figure 2).



Figure 2: IPv6 Traffic to Google in Switzerland


Over the course of 10 days, traffic more than doubled. As the graph shows, Swiss IPv6 traffic continues to grow significantly, increasing an additional 4% in the months since.


This is offers a perfect example of the kind of rapid increase of IPv6 traffic that has taken many IT decision makers by surprise. They’re more surprised still when they learn that many of these providers are trying to figure out how to get IPv4 off of their networks. For instance, in his presentation Mr. Gysi talks about the added load when running dual-stack on broadband network gateways (BNGs) and explores some of the configuration and architecture options for getting to IPv6-only sooner than later.


IPv6, hoser!


In the North American region IPv6 adoption continues to accelerate. The US is home to several service providers that have been in the vanguard of deploying IPv6. As you can see from the graphs below (taken from the World IPv6 Launch measurements page), Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast are all several years into their IPv6 deployment initiatives (Figures 3-5).





Figures 3-5: Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast IPv6 deployment


But as with the example of Swisscom in Switzerland even service provider adopters that have taken more time to scale up their subscriber offerings can cause a huge spike in a short period of time.


While Canada’s Telus has been diligently planning IPv6 for several years, even participating in World IPv6 Day as far back as 2011, they only enabled a large number of subscribers within the last two months (Figure 6). 



Figure 6: Telus IPv6 deployment


Given that Telus services close to a third of Canada's wireless subscribers and has around 1.5 million broadband subscribers, the impact on the total level of Canadian IPv6 traffic isn’t surprising (Figure 7).



Figure 7: IPv6 Traffic to Google in Canada



Meanwhile in Britannia


The same effect is visible in the UK. British provider BSkyB and a little company called British Telecom both announced IPv6 initiatives back in November of 2014 (and Virgin Media has announced plans as well). Just recently, levels of IPv6 in the UK have rapidly increased: September of 2015 saw a 16-fold increase (Figure 8).



Figure 8: IPv6 Traffic to Google in the UK


Is China next?


With these examples in mind, a recent tweet (below) from Alain Fiocco the head of Cisco’s 6lab (providing many of the IPv6 measurement graphs in this post) suggests Great Wall broadband may be preparing to deploy IPv6. Its parent company, MVNO Dr. Peng, reaches over 80 million broadband subscribers in China.




IPv4: The Legacy Protocol by 2018


The examples above demonstrate the power of service provider IPv6 adoption in driving global levels of IPv6 traffic. Using extrapolation tools available via Cisco’s excellent 6lab site, the point at which IPv6 becomes more than 50% of the overall traffic on the Internet could arrive as soon as early 2018 — slightly more than two years from today (Figure 9).



Figure 9: Estimated Global Growth in IPv6 Internet Traffic


The question is no longer merely whether your organization prepared to deploy and operate IPv6. The question now also includes whether your organization is ready to operate IPv4 as a legacy protocol.


Be sure to visit the Infoblox IPv6 Center of Excellence website for resources to help with your IPv6 adoption initiative.


Also, make sure to check out Infoblox's free, online IPv6 address planning tool, 6Map.

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