Is IPv6 the only alternative? Where is the band-aid?

Well, the train has left the station, and the last of the IPv4 numbers were given out on Tuesday. The fast track to IPv6 adoption is now open, but why IPv6? It is going to be a tremendous amount of work and a corresponding big pot of money to transition to this new protocol. Was there nothing else we could do? The Internet, like much of the world, works in a “just-in–time” mode, meaning that no one wants to invest more money or do more work than is necessary.

So, of course, we weren’t seeing real movement on IPv6 until IPv4 began running out even though we knew this day was coming for the past 10 or more years. But that thinking would lead us to say, shouldn’t there have been a band-aid along the way? We’re really smart people, couldn’t we come up with something that would allow us to continue running on IPv4 without such a radical move? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard the mantra of the refrigerator and every other appliance in your kitchen being connected to the Net. Now people want every light bulb, let alone every smartphone, to be networked. In this vision of a brave new wired world every person may have multiple devices requiring dozens of IPs in use. This is the real problem, connecting everything to the Internet. That kind of usage goes far beyond using a band-aid to extend IPv4 a little bit. You need to exponentially increase the numbers, and IPv6 does that. With IPv6 you get 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IP addresses.

In case you are wondering that translates to:

  • 340- undecillion
  • 282- decillion
  • 366- nonillion
  • 920- octillion
  • 938- septillion
  • 463- sextillion
  • 463- quintillion
  • 374- quadrillion
  • 607- trillion
  • 431- billion
  • 768- million
  • 211- thousand
  • 456

Whew! That is a lot of numbers right there. At the end of the day, that number is what won the day for IPv6. When looking at band-aids like Network Address Translation (NAT) and Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR), they offered viable alternatives that would allow us to perhaps double or even triple the amount of devices we could handle with the 4 billion IPV4 addresses. In fact NAT and CIDR have helped us squeeze IPv4 already.

A recent study by USC shows that only about 14% of allocated IPv4 addresses are actually used. I don’t know if I agree with that figure, but I am sure there are unused pockets of numbers out there. But that doesn’t get us to a world where every light fixture is wired (or wireless), where everything is connected. The move to IPv6, while difficult, gets us there. I, for one, am glad that for once we are doing things right instead of just band-aiding the problem. If we tried to squeeze more out of IPv4, we would only be at this same juncture in another few years. The requests for address space are doubling every year, and will only increase in the future.

Going to IPv6 is akin to building new roads and train tracks in the U.S. after WWII. We are going to need this infrastructure to set innovation free. Now of course, comes the hard part. For the next few years we will live in a no man’s land of network translations, NAT’ing and so forth. There will be bumps along the way as ISPs and such fully move to the new protocol. But at the end of the day, we will all be better off for it. So yes, we could have used band-aids. But for once we are doing this the right way. Long live IPv6!