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Approaching IPv4 flatline

Written by  Mohamad Rozaimy B Abd Rahman
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Mohamad Rozaimy B Abd RahmanIssue:Asia-Pacific II 2010
Article no.:13
Topic:Approaching IPv4 flatline
Author:Mohamad Rozaimy B Abd Rahman
Title:Executive Vice President
Organisation:Global of Telekom Malaysia
PDF size:256KB

About author

Mohamad Rozaimy B Abd Rahman is the Executive Vice President, Global of Telekom Malaysia (TM). Mr Rahman has also served as TM’s Chief Operating Officer, as Vice President of TM Global, responsible for the UK, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore and General Manager of Product Marketing. Currently, Mr Rahman also serves as a board member of several TM subsidiaries. Mr Rahman started his career as a Systems Engineer with AT&T Network Systems, moved to Concert Global Network anNetwork an AT&T and BT joint venture and then back to AT&T as Sales Director of AT&T Global Wholesale for South East Asia and South Asia before joining TM. Mohamad Rozaimy B Abd Rahman obtained his Bachelor in Distributed Computing from the University of East London, and a postgraduate degree in Technology Management. He received early training in telecommunications technology at AT&T Bell Labs and attended the AT&T School of Business and Technology’s programme for Advance IP and Technology Management.

 

Article abstract

Only 330 million IPv4 addresses remain. Within a year and a half these addresses will be gone. IPv6 is the new version of the Internet addressing scheme that must be used to connect to the Internet. These addresses link everything and everyone to the Internet - your refrigerator could be next. Switching the addresses on the four billion currently connected devices is a big job, but a date must be set and a plan adopted to ensure an orderly transition.

 

Full Article

At the moment that this article was written, there were less than 7 per cent, around 330 million, IPv4 addresses still available. Alarming? The answer depends on who you are asking. To most industry players, it is indeed an alarming figure but if you were to ask the majority of Internet users, most of them are not even aware of what IPv4 stands for, much less how IPv6 will replace IPv4 in the near future. What are the steps being taken to address this situation? Is there an action plan? Every device connected to the Internet requires a unique identifier to enable it to communicate with other devices on the network. This unique identifier is the Internet Protocol (IP) address. Currently, the standard addressing system is called Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4). According to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the complete exhaustion of IPv4 address blocs is likely to occur in September 2011 - less than a year and a half away; there are fewer than 330 million IPv4 addresses still available. As many as 4 billion devices or applications of various types are currently in use. The definition of users is no longer limited to humans; it is also applicable to any device capable of connecting to the network and this is not limited to communications devices only. Many household appliances, among others, will soon require a connection to the network. Your refrigerator will inform you that you are running out of orange juice, that your carton of milk is expiring and, if you wish, your refrigerator will communicate with a local store and request that a carton of milk be delivered to your doorstep. In fact, you can pretty much connect every device in the world to the network. Countless such applications will soon make our lives easier. Users will have their TV set-top boxes download - and pay for - the complete ‘Shrek’ trilogy for the family’s weekend entertainment. Users are enjoying a degree of access to services and information never before experienced; instant access to information is available through an always-on connection to the Internet. This pervasive connectivity is not without cost. All these new applications and devices will need an IP address to connect to the network, but IPv4 has only 4.3 billion addresses and less than 330 million of these are still available; the remaining addresses are hardly enough. Millions of devices are at risk of not being able to communicate with the Internet. The number of available IP addresses should not limit the growth of the Internet. How then can we deal with this lack? The answer to this conundrum was proposed more than a decade ago: Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) - the successor to IPv4. Simply put, network operators, service providers and more importantly end-users will have to switch from IPv4 to the better and much more secure IPv6. The problem is that most end-users are not aware of the technologies that make the Internet work. For most users, the Internet is a utility like a clean water supply or electricity; it is always available when we turn it on. It will be a challenge to prepare Internet users for the eventual exhaustion of IPv4 addresses and the inevitable migration to IPv6. This is why the deployment of IPv6 should not be delayed. Everyone will have to be involved in the global transition to IPv6. Time is running out; are we ready to do it? A painful transition? Everyone pretty much knows that the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 will not happen immediately. There will be a transition period of anywhere from five to ten years - quite considerable considering the fast-moving age we live in. The hard truth is that not all network-enabled devices are IPv6 compatible; we are talking about hundreds of millions of users using millions of different types of systems and devices. Some are still using old operating systems incapable of handling IPv6 addresses and some still use their first and second generation Blackberries which can only handle IPv4. Even among service providers there are different degrees of preparedness; fortunately, however, most providers are prepared for the transition. Network operators have to be sure that they will be ready when the moment comes to switch off IPv4. During the transitional period, network operators must guarantee the interoperability of both standards through whatever mechanisms are available to them. Can we shorten the transition period? The public uses the bulk of the four billion IPv4 addresses, so IPv6 acceptance will depend upon their willingness (and ability) to adopt this standard. Unfortunately, most end-users are not yet aware of the unavoidable end of IPv4 addresses and the need to switch to IPv6. Making global adoption a reality The easiest way to deploy IPv6 is, perhaps, a way that does not require the active participation of the general public. To some extent, service providers can control the wide scale deployment of IPv6 addresses. All new devices introduced by service providers - and their associated applications and services - should be able to support IPv6. Set-top boxes using FTTH (fibre to the home) technology should enable IPv6 by default and all new generation of smartphones should be IPv6 friendly. Using this soft approach, all the work takes place in the background, but this approach only works for new devices. So, what about existing devices? In the long run, the general public will still have to be educated and their level of awareness raised. There is still the insidious question of the lack of IPv6 killer applications. Where are the applications that will make everybody want to switch to IPv6? Are industry players looking at this the wrong way? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on the applications we already have and making sure that they will work in an IPv6 environment. Google is already making YouTube available in IPv6. Other web services that have a great number of followers, such as Facebook and Twitter, could follow suit. When users switch to IPv6, it is fair to assume that they would like to maintain their comfort zones. What is the point of switching to IPv6 if they can no longer update their Facebook account? What is the point of switching to IPv6 if you can no longer tweet? Another way to go about this might be through a global awareness campaign; this has been done before. Everybody remembers the Y2K campaign. It was conducted in such a way that everyone who had to act on it took the steps needed to address the issue. Of course the message did not reach everybody, but that was never its objective. It was aimed at informing and preparing the right groups of people to take the necessary precautionary actions. Some might say that a global campaign will cause unnecessary panic. Well, did the Y2K campaign cause unnecessary panic or did it cause panic only among those who were not prepared for it? The campaign defined a target for everyone to achieve and everybody did work towards achieving that objective. Fortunately, the main objective of the IPV6 campaign remains the same as it was for the earlier Y2K campaign - to raise the level of awareness among industrial players and the owners of the 4 billion IPv4 addresses around the world and prod them into taking the necessary actions to ensure IPv6 compliance. Knowing how something will turn out does not mean that we will be prepared when the event actually occurs. Let us be prepared for this. Should we introduce a symbolic cut-off date for the worldwide adoption of IPv6? It would be a highly symbolical date, but it will help give us a sense of purpose and a common target. Let us make sure that the complete migration to IPv6 will become a reality, not in ten years time, but in two years. What do you think of 2012? Are there any takers?

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