Move to IPv6 critical as internet reaches limits of growth

19 May 2010

The existing internet based on Internet Protocol version 4 is running out of available addresses due to massive web growth, particularly mobile internet in developing nations and is set to reach maximum capacity by September 2011.

The IPv6 Summit, attended by 130 delegates in Dublin, heard the current internet is running out of addresses to assign to new devices and has reached nearly 4.5 billion addresses.

Newer technology, IPv6, provides a solution and will facilitate more than 4 billion addresses for every person on the planet.

The scale of the difference is vast; if all IPv4 addresses took up the volume of a smartphone then all IPv6 addresses would be the volume of the Earth.

“This is a simple case of demand exceeding supply,” said Mícheál Ó Foghlú, chair of the Irish IPv6 Taskforce and executive director of research at TSSG.

3 reasons for internet address demand

“Three critical factors are driving the demand for internet addresses. First, estimates show that individuals in developed nations already use multiple devices to access the internet, including mobile phones, laptops, desktops and servers, all of which require individual addresses.

“The trend is towards even more internet-enabled devices, such as TVs, game consoles and media players.

“Second, the growing numbers of new users from developing nations such as China, India and Brazil continue to spur demand.

“Third, the scope for internet devices that talk directly to each other is rising and increasing the pressure to provide connectivity. Examples of this are ‘smart grids’ for electricity, water and other utility services, which are moving towards more efficient internet-based metering solutions,” Ó Foghlú said.

Danger of address shortage

The summit discussed the importance of moving from the old IPv4 system to the new IPv6 technology in order to avoid the IPv4 address shortage, and encourage economic growth, innovation and foreign direct investment through continued internet growth.

“Migrating to IPv6 will position Ireland as innovative and responsive to business needs and enable the growth of our ‘smart economy’. It is a basic infrastructural requirement and is as relevant as roads or airports to attracting foreign investment.

“Without IPv6, new start-up businesses wishing to offer services on the internet will find it very difficult or prohibitively expensive to secure globally routable addresses for new services, such as e-commerce websites,” Ó Foghlú went on. “Addresses may even become a black market commodity, which could be a massive hurdle for businesses and would significantly slow internet growth.

“We should not forget that there are also significant business opportunities for equipment manufacturers and software developers. IPv6 will allow them to explore new internet-based multimedia devices, services and applications that may have been too complex or expensive to run on the IPv4 system, particularly if targeting Asian markets where IPv6 is already being deployed aggressively.

IPv6 adoption gains momentum

“Internationally, many government and commercial organisations have adopted IPv6 for their internal systems and many international organisations have endorsed the move to IPv6, including the European Commission and the OECD. Its adoption by large enterprises and by SMEs is vital to ensure the internet, and the businesses that depends on it, can continue to grow.    

“The Irish Government has shown leadership by ensuring that public-sector networks are IPv6 enabled, and by ensuring that public sector ICT spending prioritises the purchase of equipment that can run both IPv4 and IPv6.”

Ó Foghlú said there are costs involved in switching to the new address format and to enable the old and new systems to work in tandem for some time. Initially, this will involve the installation of new or upgraded routers, firewalls and other network devices.

“In due course, internet service providers (ISPs) will need to replace consumers’ home access devices that use phone lines, cable TV and wireless networking connections. Although this involves initial outlays for businesses and ISPs, many of these migration costs can be built into the normal replacement life cycle of networking equipment.

“The Irish IPv6 Taskforce provides free training materials and highlights other free on-line resources. We would encourage industry bodies to approach the taskforce to arrange for help in raising awareness and providing training,” Ó Foghlú said.

Opened by the Minister of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan TD, the summit was addressed by Prof Fionn Murtagh, director of Information, Communications and Emergent Technologies, directorate of Science Foundation Ireland, the event sponsor.

The first keynote speech was delivered by Brian Carpenter, professor of computer science from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, noted for his activities in the IETF (the Internet Engineering Taskforce, which creates internet standards) and as chair of the Internet Architecture Board (1995–2000). The second keynote speech was delivered by Daniel Karrenberg, chief scientist with RIPE-NCC (one of the five international groups that allocates IP addresses to ISPs).

Other speakers and panelists at the summit included Roger O’Connor (Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources), Tim Chown (University of Southampton), Yanick Pouffary (Hewlett Packard), Marco Hogewoning (XS4ALL), Mat Ford (Internet Society), Martin List-Petersen (Airwire), Yves Paindaveine (European Commission DG-INFSO), Dennis Jennings (ICANN), and Dave Northey (Microsoft).

This event was supported by the Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG), part of the Waterford Institute of Technology; HEAnet — Ireland’s National Research Network, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Irish National IPv6 Centre, and was sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The internet is running out of addresses to assign to new devices, delegates heard at the IPv6 Summit in Dublin

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years