Why the internet isn't ready for IPv6

When IPv4 was being developed in 1978, there was no way for its developers to imagine that it would eventually be globally adopted as the standard used by virtually every internet service provider and host agency. The IPv4 protocol used 8-bit addresses that were capable of producing four billion unique IP addresses for allocation. These early developers from the late 70’s could not foresee such vast growth of the internet; they could not foresee that eventually all four billion addresses would be used up. Only recently has this issue even become a concern. That is why the IPv6 protocol was created; according to experts, the internet will never run out of allocated IP addresses with this version.

IPv6, the next generation in internet protocol, drastically increases the range of internet addresses available. It features improved host-to-router discovery with auto configuration capability. This new protocol also cuts down on congestion due to its enhanced multicast capability. Its security is also as good if not better than IPv4 due to its built-in IPsec encryption.

However, when IPv6 was first introduced, compatibility issues concerned the developer community—a concern that still exists today. In order for IPv6 users to access the same internet as IPv4 users, websites have to be compatible with the new protocol; many still are not. Websites have to be restructured to allow IPv6 users to access them because IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4. Since developers determined that sites would have to maintain IPv4 and IPv6 protocols simultaneously for many years to come, the deployment of IPv6 started as early as 1999, but many sites remain to be restructured.

Another huge problem with transitioning to IPv6 in the near future is that not all internet content providers have begun changing their structure to allow all users to access all sites. Offering full access to both IPv4 and Ipv6 sites requires that the service providers run IPv4 to IPv6 transition services, which is a major engineering project. Not all service providers have fully implemented this capability, and some of the smaller providers have ignored it completely. The problem is that some people simply do not understand the importance of the issue. Broadband internet customers want to have access to the entire web, not just part of it. Until the retrofitting is complete, this is not possible, which limits the internet for IPv6 users drastically.

In spite of upcoming consumer demand, many companies are resisting the changeover. Even though the push for change to internet infrastructure came before the last IPv4 address was used up in 2011, there are still many internet service providers who do not offer transitional services or IPv6 technology to their customers. This shows that the world still is not yet ready to comply with the call to action. The resistance to change could be at least partially due to ARIN (the American Registry for Internet Numbers) charging high prices for IPv6 addresses but then issuing calls to action regarding the necessity of implementing them.

Further, not all large corporations and businesses have restructured their networks. This means that their web content is not ready for IPv6 either. While internet giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook have made their sites available to both IPv6 and IPv4 users, many other businesses and privately owned companies—even some primarily web-based ones—still have not. Tools such as WhoIsHostingThis.com can be used to find the current IP status of a domain. That limits IPv6 users’ web experience and does not allow them full online access.

This reticence to transition complicates commerce for those companies who have not yet complied. They have not taken advantage of the transition services offered by multiple engineering firms to restructure their networking infrastructures to include both IPv6 and IPv4 simultaneously. Some experts speculate that these businesses see the time and money involved as a burden and intend to procrastinate as long as possible. But the reality is that if these businesses procrastinate too long, they will go out of business. Some businesses still have plenty of available IPv4 address blocks available and are in no rush to switch over to IPv6. Officially, they state that the delay is due to security risks if they switch over too quickly or if the switch is not implemented properly. The most notable such concern is misconfiguration when tunneling, a vulnerability that can potentially give external traffic free access to the internal network. Obviously, such kinks must be worked out during the development of new technology; its implementation, however, is only a matter of time.

Written by Tommy Swanson

Tommy Swanson is a marketing fanatic who has a passion for non-profits. Swanson helps numerous nationally recognized non-profit organizations and businesses develop their web marketing strategy at Think Stripes, a content marketing agency. He is also a serial online entrepreneur who has built and sold several large businesses since his early teens. You can find him tweeting @tommyswanson.
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