The road to IPV6: China leading the way

When the world's top websites and Internet service providers (ISPs) joined the first global-scale coordinated 24-hour trial of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPV6) in June 2011, it demonstrated the readiness of major IT organizations to embrace the new protocol.

In June this year, during the World IPV6 Launch Day, the same top IT companies, as well as major ISPs, home networking equipment manufacturers, and governments enabled IPv6 for their products and services.

Yet, it is a fact: despite the global push for the connected world to migrate to this next-gen Internet addressing protocol, only 2 percent of Internet traffic is currently conducted through it.

"We are still in the very early stages of the transition," said Yves Poppe, Director, Business Development IP Strategy at Tata Communications. "Nobody can predict with certainty how long the transition will take but we can expect a rapid increase as all new home routers now support IPv6, as well as the fact that most if not all new DSL or cable modems now being installed by ISP’s support IPv6." 

He said governments must lead the way and set the example in their procurement processes, be it for software, hardware or telecommunication services. Companies, too, need to discuss, plan, develop, and implement their strategies for making the transition to IPv6 possible.

"While there is no need to panic, the time has come, for business continuity’s sake to consider IPv6 in all IT related activities, without exception. Further delay will only increase the cost if one chooses to wait for the deluge to come," he said.

Addressing the pain points

When the Number Resource Organization (NRO), the body which represents the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), announced in February 2011 that the final five remaining address blocks have been equally allocated among the world’s five regions, it brought home the reality that currently available IPV4 addresses are nearing depletion and it becomes imperative to make the transition to the new Internet addressing protocol.

The slow move to IPV6 could be attributed to many factors.

"The major stumbling blocks remain primarily budgetary. As there were no apparent commercial or revenue benefits to be first mover, the tendency has been to procrastinate for as long as possible," Poppe said.

Moreover, IPV6 also necessitates that the whole chain of information exchange from the user’s laptop or tablet or smartphone, the customer premise router or the base station, all intervening networks all the way to the information be accessible in IPv6. This highlights the role of governments in leading the way for industries and companies.

"From an enterprise perspective, the first priority should be to make their customer facing sites accessible in dual stack, meaning that the sites have both an IPv4 and IPv6 address," Poppe explained.

The Tata Communications website, for example, is accessible in both IPv4 and IPv6. The company has also successfully completed its transition to a global dual stack network and most local ISP’s also have IPv6 ready networks although not everybody has turned IPv6 capability on at this point in time.

The company was involved in the early phases of IPv6 development and testing going back to 1996 and it started upgrading our commercial network in 2003. Its IPv6 Native Service enables customers to access IPv6 via a direct connection to one of Tata Communications’ IPv6 enabled routers, and its customers can access IPv6 and IPv4 over the same physical interface, while its IPv6 Tunnel Broker Service provides a way to access IPv6 through the IPv4 infrastructure without upgrading any router.

China leading the way

Poppe said in Asia, China has been a frontrunner in IPv6 adoption, driven by the rapid growth of its tech industry, the massive number of Internet users, and government initiatives and industry collaborations geared towards greater, faster deployment.

The government has also chosen a systematic approach to the transition to IPv6 as it has recognized early on that the major Asian economies would be the first ones to run out of IPv4 addresses.

Extensive experience has been gained through research networks such as CERnet and the China Advanced IP Experiment Network, through cooperation with international research and development projects, and through the advocacy of internationally recognized groups such as the Beijing Internet Institute and the China NGN Forum.

IPv6 was also showcased at the Olympics in 2008 and at the Shanghai expo in 2010. This provided China with invaluable experience in developing IPv6-ready equipment and applications including mobile broadband and the Internet of Things

Moreover, major Chinese telecoms and carriers, equipment manufacturers and Internet service providers have developed evolution strategies and initiated pilot projects to facilitate migration.

Late last year, China's State Council revealed that an IPv6 network would be rolled out starting with a small-scale commercial pilot by end-2013, followed by a large-scale deployment to culminate in 1015. 

"IPv6 deployment is considered an important component of the country's Five-Year Plan, which spans from 2011 to 2015," Poppe said. "While China’s percentage of commercial IPv6 traffic is practically nil today, we can expect with quasi certainty that it will overtake the West within the next three years."

The country is expected to launch a trial program for the commercial use of next-generation Internet technologies before the end of 2013. The government then plans to implement a large-scale public-use Internet network and will move from IPv4 toward IPv6.

The goal is to bring the number of IPv6 broadband users to over eight million this year. Meanwhile, the 100 most influential commercial websites in China will also be upgraded to support IPv6 users.