IPv6 is coming: What network service providers need to know

October 2, 2013 - 11:58am
IPv6 accounts for 2 percent of global Internet traffic and continues to rise.

Managing the rising onslaught of digital traffic is one of the chief challenges that network service providers face. Currently, the vast majority of global Internet traffic is routed through Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), an address location system rapidly approaching exhaustion. In fact, there are now more networked devices than there are unique IPv4 addresses, a looming issue that temporary solutions can only stave off for so long.

IPv4 addresses were split into subnets and allocated to separate geographic regions, reducing the complexity of broadcast traffic routing. However, there are virtually no more unallocated IPv4 address blocks left. Europe, Asia and the Middle East all ran out of IPv4 addresses by 2012, and North America is due to use up the last of available addresses by the beginning of 2015, according to ZDNet's Steven Vaughan-Nichols. A technique called network address translation (NAT) is currently utilized to manage the lack of unique IPv4 addresses, but more traffic space is sorely needed, according to Sencore senior engineer Jeff Van Roekel. IPv6 offers 128 address bits, which represents a vast upgrade from the 32 address bits offered under IPv4 and significantly expands available address space.

"It is now time to embrace the IPv6 challenge," said Van Roekel.

IPv6 finally experiencing growth spurt
While IPv6 has been around for awhile, it has only recently experienced a marked rise in adoption. One recent milestone highlighted the renewed potential of the protocol. For the first time, the percentage of Google users via IPv6 surpassed 2 percent, according to Vaughan-Nichols. While that still sounds like a small percentage, it indicates changes are in store for network providers. Many operators have upgraded their backhaul solutions to support IPv6 and in anticipation of further demand for the upgraded version. Most of these deployments have been made by large providers with a regional or national footprint, according to Van Roekel. Ultimately, the limitations of IPv4 may spell problems for organizations that do not upgrade their infrastructure, as they will be limited in their abilities to expand their subscriber base. Besides providing extra address space, IPv6 is higher performing than its predecessor, leading to cost advantages as well.

"IPv6 for a large infrastructure also has routing advantages that may lead to a more efficient core network, which helps to reduce operating cost," said Van Roekel.

Network providers will need to upgrade their infrastructure to handle the requirements of IPv6. At the same time, its critical that their systems can continue to handle IPv4 traffic until the protocol is phased out, driving the need for system solutions that can easily manage both types of traffic.

"IPv6 has become a requirement for our platforms which will operate at many different points in a video distribution network," Van Roekel said. "Working with an OEM partner that understands the challenges of this new technology will help you navigate the IPv6 transition smoothly."

Stay tuned for our next installment of our inside look at IPv6, where we'll tackle upcoming challenges for content providers. Contact us today to learn more.

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