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Creating a renewable Internet

09 декабря 2008

Paolo Susnik, CEO of Tiscali International Networks looks at how the much anticipated upgrade to IPv6 is fast approaching and describes the challenges and opportunities involved with delivering the next generation of Internet Protocol.

Since the 1980s, IPv4 has been the dominant protocol for the Internet, but it now seems that its days are numbered. The number of IPv4 addresses is limited to 4.3 billion, so with the current rate of addresses being used, the Internet is running dry and exhaustion of IPv4 address space is just around the corner. Companies therefore should have begun their transition to IPv6 months ago, so that they don’t get left behind in the debris of IPv4.

The evolution of the internet

The internet has seen much success and growth over the years as an increasing number of consumers is going online and consequently demands the fastest speeds to do so. Broadband penetration is growing exponentially in most countries. Newer phenomena such as social networking, VoIP and video sharing sites are driving regular consumers to Internet services. Sites likeYouTube, Facebook, Bebo and MySpace have driven literally millions of consumers online. In the US alone, between 2007 and 2008, it is estimated that there has been a 77% increase in the total of monthly visits to Facebook, which amounts to over 325 million visits per month.

In addition, pressure is coming from the influx of 3G smartphones: Their usage shifts to high bandwidth-intensive applications and not the email function that was originally the attraction to such mobile phones. User Generated Content is at an all time high and this greater demand for connectivity means that the pressure on bandwidth is ever mounting and the strain is starting to show on IPv4. As the demand soars and IP addresses are consumed by application after application, IPv4 begins to be left in a position where it is rapidly depleting, calling for an upgrade. In fact, the outlook we are currently facing is that at the current rate we will have exhausted all the remaining IP addresses by 2010.

One reason why IPv6 should be implemented quickly is due to the fact that sticking to IPv4 for too long would make the public internet far too complex and fragmented, companies might even come up with a trading scheme where they can ‘sell’ IP addresses that they no longer need. It is essential that we begin to plan for IPv6 as soon as possible as it is sure to come around rapidly and service and content providers alike are best to be prepared for the inevitable. As it currently stands there is just 16% of all available IP addresses remaining as IPv4 is beginning to exhaust. There are technologies to mitigate the IPv4 exhaustion for a short term, however the industry needs to take a more long-term perspective – IPv6.

Why we must look towards IPv6

If as predicted, in 2010 version 4 will reach its full capacity, then service providers will have no choice but to switch to IPv6. IPv6 is not a new technology, in reality it has been tested, proved and debugged since the 1990s. Yet it is only now that companies are beginning to take notice and begin the process of migrating away from IPv4. As with most upgrades there are various advantages to IPv6 such as its simplicity, quality of service and enhanced security to that of its predecessor. However IPv6 should be seen more for what it is – it is a requirement for the future of the internet.

With its huge address space, IPv6 provides an opportunity for innovation in IP based services and applications. The 128 bits of IPv6, as opposed to the 32 bits used by IPv4 mean that service providers have nearly an infinite number of addresses at their disposal. The problem that remains however is that there is currently a lack of content available over version 6 as content providers have been reluctant to make the change as there aren’t enough users to date; on the other hand users are not flocking to IPv6 as there is not much content. A milestone took place in March 2008 when Google launched their IPv6 version of the website, which will encourage others to follow suit.

IPv6 will act as the lifeline to the ISPs providing a huge number of IP addresses per person in the world, yet service providers should look to making the switch before it gets to this stage. As some large companies like Google have already made the move to IPv6, others should be careful to keep up with these firms as they may find themselves left behind if the switch is not made in time.

IPv6 in the emerging markets

Demand for IP services in the emerging markets, such as the Middle and Far East, Latin America and Eastern Europe is proving to be both a lucrative opportunity and a challenge for carriers. The exponential growth of the internet in the emerging markets is no doubt adding strain to the current networks, as more and more people worldwide are going online.   Such markets have undergone major economic transformation over the past years and high quality connectivity is now vital to their economies. Internet in the emerging markets is turning out to be as fundamental a part of the infrastructure for a modern economy along with other essentials such as oil, railways and air transport.

What we are seeing in the Russian market is that generally the uptake of internet usage is currently quite soft yet increasing rapidly. This clearly is an area that we will see much interest in internet services and applications of the coming year or two. It is therefore important for service providers in Russia to take note of the changes and the importance of using IPv6 as they are currently in the best position to make such a transition. In some markets where uptake is huge, operators will find that it becomes more difficult to make the switch. Yet in Russia where subscriber numbers aren’t still so high, moving to IPv6 can be done more simply. However, time is of the essence and costs may escalate the longer it is left to make the switch to the newer version.

What progress have we seen?

Some good progress has already begun in the transition to IPv6, particularly from government bodies that are taking the matter seriously. In June 2008 we saw the first regulatory level enforced by the US Office of Management and Budget that stated by this date, their federal agencies must have been upgraded to IPv6. In Europe too, the European Union (EU) called on public and private organisations to switch to IPv6 by 2010. The EU set recommendations for the implementation of IPv6 saying that it would be best to introduce a step-by-step plan that would take place over a period of time, hence the importance of looking towards IPv6 immediately.

In terms of companies that have dipped their feet into IPv6, we have recently witnessed versions of IPv6 websites from the likes of Google. It is expected that other companies will be soon to follow as the big players have set the trend so that others follow suit and also jump on the IPv6 bandwagon.

IPv6 is clearly something that companies are taking more and more seriously so we will begin to see an increasing uptake. There are costs and time issues that could prove to be major factors, particularly if too much time is left before the transition but as long as companies plan it carefully and begin to action this straight away, then the switchover should be a smooth process. Of course we will also see a transition period whereby the IPv4 and IPv6 websites run parallel for around 2-5 years, yet as the coming months and years will bear even more bandwidth hungry applications and services, carriers and service providers will need to cope with the extra demand.

What’s next?

Switching to IPv6 should not just be seen as an upgrade but also a necessary investment for a company’s future, in a similar way in which we look to finding new energy sources to replace oil. Worldwide, we are all aware that oil supplies have a limit and that in just a couple of decades time they will completely dry up, and that at that point we will need to develop and use new sources of energy to power the electricity we use.

For IPv6 it acts in the same way, the consumer will know no different when using the Internet as the end product will be exactly the same yet the source will have experienced an upgrade. It is up to the service and content providers to begin making these changes so that there is not a crisis point at the last minute, when the IP addresses dry up.    

Transition to IPv6 appears inevitable with every indication that there will be a rapid uptake which Carriers and Service Providers need to start planning for.

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