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The future is now: You may already be using IPv6

Stephen Lawson | April 15, 2015
You've probably heard about the looming shortage of Internet addresses, even if you've never gone looking for one. But depending on what websites you visit and how you get to them, you may be helping to solve it.

The shortage of IPv4 addresses is a hot topic at this week's biannual meeting of ARIN. The organization is getting ready to open a waiting list for companies requesting large numbers of fresh addresses.

IPv6 solves the shortage with a bigger address space that should be able to provide a unique number for everything that will ever get on the Internet. The new protocol languished for years as companies downplayed the coming address drought. But now, in some countries and some parts of the Internet business, those days are over.

Here's more good news: Facebook says about 8 percent of all its members worldwide use IPv6 to reach its content. In the U.S., it's 17.5 percent. Those shares are doubling each year, Facebook software engineer Paul Saab said. Google logs just over 6 percent of its visitors coming over the new protocol.

But while many ISPs and major Internet content providers have made IPv6 partly available and are aggressively rolling it out, a long tail of smaller participants has not.

"As you radiate out from core providers and into the different parts of the Internet, it drops out pretty quick," said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research

Of the top 1,000 websites, as measured by Web analytics company Alexa, only 14.2 percent can be reached via IPv6. In terms of the number of bits traversing the Internet as a whole, there may be an even longer way to go. Reports by the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, one of the largest Internet peering companies, show IPv4 traffic peaking daily at about 3.5Tbps (bits per second). Meanwhile, IPv6 traffic typically peaks at about 30Gbps, suggesting it makes up only about 1 percent of the data going through the exchange.

A world map created by APNIC [Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre] and Google shows IPv6 capability ranging from almost 39 percent in Belgium to zero in many developing countries. While Germany comes in at nearly 20 percent and the U.S. almost 17 percent, few others countries exceed 10 percent.

"It is happening, but it's still piecemeal," APNIC Chief Scientist Geoff Huston said via email. "Just 30 ISPs account for most of the visible IPv6 activity. Now, they are big ISPs and they are influential in the industry, but there are still just 30."

"I don't feel like we're arriving yet on this tipping point where everybody's going to adopt this soon," Dyn's Madory said.

Vint Cerf, ARIN's board chair and Google's chief Internet evangelist, thinks the tide will turn when overall IPv6 use hits about 25 percent. That should happen in the next few years, driven by the need to connect more mobile devices and the Internet of Things, Cerf said.


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