IPv4 addresses, used on the Internet, are 32 bits long. While that is a lot of bits, there are more devices wanting Internet connectivity than there are IPv4 addresses. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) IPv4 “countdown” leaves no doubt that IPv4 addresses are very quickly becoming extinct, so it is no surprise that IPv6, the next generation of IP, is becoming a hot issue.
IPv6 addresses have 128 bits, allowing a huge number of addresses to be created.
At Cisco Live 2015 in San Diego, there were many sessions related to IPv6 deployment. A few things stood out for me: IPv6 is here, devices on your network are already running it and you need a plan to implement it.
There are many ways to measure IPv6 usage, and thus many statistics available. According to Google, the country with the most IPv6-enabled users is Belgium, at about 35 percent, while in the U.S. approximately 21 percent of Internet users use IPv6. Unfortunately for those of us in Canada, IPv6 adoption is less than 1 percent. Similar numbers are reported by Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) for being IPv6 “capable” and by Akamai.
Some U.S. information presented at Cisco Live 2015:
- Projections are that usage will be 60 percent in 2017.
- 45 percent of web pages are already available by IPv6.
- Verizon Wireless is already at 70 percent and AT&T is at 53 percent.
- T-mobile smartphones are already IPv6-only.
- There is currently a higher percentage of IPv6 traffic to Google from homes than from enterprises.
Maybe you’re not troubled about IPv6, perhaps because you haven’t enabled it on your network yet. Well, there is probably still something to be concerned about. For example, if you are on a Windows device, open the command prompt and type the ipconfig command; here’s an example result:
See that “Link-local IPv6 Address”?
Every IPv6-enabled device creates its own link-local address (it always starts with the hexadecimal numbers fe80) with which it can communicate to other connected devices that are also running IPv6. By default, devices running Windows 7 and later have IPv6 enabled, so they are ready to communicate. If a PC gets connected to an IPv6-enabled router, for example at Cisco Live, or at a cafe, it will listen to the IPv6 “router advertisement,” which includes the “prefix” (the network number that the router is on). The PC will take this network number, derive its own “interface ID” and from these create a globally unique IPv6 address … and it will then be running on the IPv6 Internet! All this happens without any intervention from the user or from the network administrator.
The same thing happens on your smartphone; here’s some partial output from the LanDroid app on an Android phone, showing that the phone also has a link-local address, and therefore is ready to talk IPv6:
If you access one of the IPv6-capable sites (such as Google or Facebook) directly from a device that has an IPv6 address, you will be using IPv6 all the way — no translation is required. So, your PC and phone may already be using IPv6.
Many devices have both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, but as noted, some (such as phones) are only IPv6. A major challenge to total IPv6 conversion is that many apps are currently IPv4-only, requiring some type of translation to be used by these IPv6-only devices. One way that translation is accomplished is with the 464 xlat protocol. For example, IPv6-only Android devices can use this protocol to “fake out” IPv4-only applications by giving them a “dummy” IPv4 address. However, this situation will be changing. For instance, during the same week that Cisco Live was running, Apple announced that all apps in iOS 9 must work over IPv6, and thus won’t require translation.
Since the devices attached to your network are likely already IPv6-enabled, how do you deploy IPv6?
Cisco Live included a very interesting panel discussion about deployment experiences. Stephanie Schuller of LinkedIn presented an excellent pie graph (a real pie!) showing that updating the infrastructure (such as the routers and switches) is only half of the IPv6 implementation; updating applications, databases and so on, is very important too, and requires the network and application personnel to work together. Even the format of how these IPv6 addresses are displayed or sent to applications can cause havoc, so it is critical to get everyone involved. Rich Lewis of Oracle Corporation said that they started by identifying the easiest targets. For example, when new offices were set up, they used only IPv6. Some good news is that both of these organizations found that the conversion to IPv6 was easier than they expected it to be.
A common theme in this panel discussion and other sessions was that it is essential to identify IPv6 deployment as a project, with an accountable project manager assigned; having a plan, building a project team with the appropriate people, building in metrics and providing training when necessary are keys to success.
If your work network isn’t yet running IPv6, you can still learn and experiment with it on your home devices, if you can get an IPv6 address from your Internet service provider. If you’re in Canada you may be out of luck, though. A recent Financial Post article confirmed what I found when I tried to get one: most of our large communications companies are far behind, with less than one percent IPv6 availability. I was told by the agent I spoke to that there was “no information on that service” for my home Internet connection … Oh well, at least my phone provider knew what it was, and said that they hoped to have it rolled out by the end of the year.