Canadians lagging in IPv6 readiness, says expert

Canadian organizations and Internet service providers aren’t moving fast enough to prepare for the next generation of Internet Protocol, IPv6, says a British Columbia expert.

Andree Toonk, the network architect for BCNet, a broadband network for British Columbia university researchers,  monitors IPv6 adoption around the world, and said in an interview that if Internet providers and organizations in this country don’t pick up the pace they will be in trouble when the pool of unallocated IPv4 addresses runs out in two years.

By his estimation, only seven per cent of organizations with IPv4 addresses are sending out IPv6 prefixes now, which isn’t good enough.

Asked how fast Canadian organizations should be making sure their network equipment is IPv6-ready, Toonk said, “In my opinion the sooner the better.”

“You should start making investments now,” he said.

“If you wait for the last possible moment – let’s say two or three years from now – they you have to do it in a rush, and you might find out your equipment doesn’t support it.”

Any device that connects to the Internet needs an address. Thanks to the soaring demand for mobile devices the number of allocated addresses is shrinking largely due to the limitations of IPv4. IPv6’s structure has a much larger address space.

Toonk’s comments are echoed in the latest study on IPv6 adoption issued by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which analyzes the intricacies of economies and sets goals for 30 industrial nations including Canada. The OCED members have specifically committed themselves to adopting IPv6, the report says, so benchmarking is necessary.

IPv6 adoption has been growing faster than IPv4 since mid-2007, the report said, as demand for IPv6 addresses grows.

However, “adequate adoption of IPv6 cannot yet be demonstrated,” said the report, which was released Friday.

“In particular, IPv6 is not being deployed sufficiently rapidly to intercept the estimated IPv4 exhaustion date. Much more mobilization needs to occur for the Internet infrastructure to be ready when IPv4 addresses run out in 2012.”

Only 5.5 per cent of the networks on the Internet could handle IPv6 traffic by Jan. 1 of this year, the report said.

By several measures Canada isn’t a leader in IPv6 adoption, the report’s figures show.

As of Jan. 1 of this year Germany led with the highest number of IPv6 peers (47), followed by the Netherlands (39), the United States (25 peers) and Switzerland and the United Kingdom (17 peers each). Canada had only four. Only operators who are running IPv6 can enter into IPv6 peering arrangements with other network providers.

Germany had the largest number of ISPs offering commercial native IPv6 service (10), followed by the U.S. (eight), Japan (an estimated eight), the United Kingdom with seven and France and Switzerland with six. Canada had one.

Germany had 15 providers of native IPv6 transit, the Netherlands had 14, the United Kingdom had 12, France had 11 and the U.S. had 10. Canada had one.

It isn’t clear how ready the country’s three biggest Internet providers are. Rogers Communications Inc. didn’t reply to a request for comment on its readiness. A spokesman for BCE Inc’s Bell Canada said the phone company wasn’t able to comment. Telus Corp said in a statement that its has done IPv6 trials and is working with some clients on custom development.

“IPv6 plays an important role in enabling growth of the Internet to support further innovation,” the OECD report says. In addition, security, interoperability and competition issues are involved with the depletion of IPv4.

Organizations that aren’t ready once the world moves fully to IPv6 will have to employ complex and expensive layers of network address translation (NAT) to share scarce IPv4 addresses among multiple users and devices, the OECD warns. That’s why deployment of IPv6 by network operators and content/application providers is an increasing priority for all Internet stakeholders, it says.

The report noted that the number of ISPs per country doesn’t speak for how many end-users have devices that are IPv6 ready. Unless an IPv6 client supports certain functions it may not be able to join a new IPv6 network, even if it can send and receive IPv6 packets.

The good news is that over 90 per cent of the installed base of operating systems in OECD countries is IPv6 ready, the report says, although they often require extra configuration. It can be estimated that roughly 25 per cent of operating systems would work with IPv6 today if IPv6 is present on the network. Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Macintosh OS X.

The report also has interesting information on mobile operating systems. Windows Mobile and Symbian, used in Nokia phones, already support IPv6. Google was working on IPv6 support in its Android operating system as of the time of writing of the report. Google’s Nexus One from Google has IPv6 enabled by default. As of the time of the writing of the report the iPhone and Blackberry didn’t support IPv6.

Still, a one year experiment by Google estimated that just 0.25 per cent of users had IPv6 connectivity (and chose IPv6 when given the choice) in September 2009, the report said, up from less than 0.2 per cent one year before. After France, the top countries by per centage of native IPv6 capable users in September 2009 were China, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, and Japan.

Only 1.45 per cent of the top 1,000 Websites had an IPv6 Website in January of this year, the report said, but this figure grew to eight per cent in March 2010 when Google Websites were included. However, only 0.15 per cent of the top 1 million websites had an IPv6 website in January (and just 0.16 per cent in March 2010).

“A trend may be emerging whereby large Websites are deploying IPv6 alongside IPv4,” the report warned, “while the vast majority of smaller Websites remain available only over IPv4.”

The ever-increasing demand for smart phones and slates like Apple’s iPad that can connect to the Web will only accelerate need for IP addresses because of the next leap in wireless technology, the so-called fourth generation (4G) standard of Long Term Evolution (LTE). Most wireless operators regardless of whether they’re running 3G or 3.5G networks (as most Canadian carries are), have separate voice and data networks. So right now, only the data side needs an IP address.

When the LTE standard is finalized, it will merge those components into an all-IP network. Handsets, as the report notes, will become Voice-over-IP (VoIP) devices so will need IP addresses even for voice calls.

“Adequate adoption of IPv6 to satisfy foreseeable demand for Internet deployment would require a significant increase in its relative use, in a short space of time, and require significant mobilization across all parts of the Internet,” the OECD report warns.

Toonk, who says BCNet has been fully IPv6-ready for several years, urges network managers to ensure new equipment is is IPv6 capable.

In addition to making the network its self IPv6 ready, other tools and software that might need to be made ready, he added, such as software for IP management, monitoring and billing.

Security is another aspect that will need to be thought about, he said. By enabling IPv6 a new parallel network is created that needs to be firewalled, filtered and shaped.

And it isn’t just the data centre that has to be ready. Not only do networks of partners and customers have mesh, so do the cable or DSL modems staffers who work out of the office. Most of the modems deployed in residential networks today do not support IPv6, Toonk said.

“Starting now will buy yourself some time to do this in an orderly fashion,” he said.