The dire warnings about running out of internet addresses have largely ceased because, slowly but surely, migration from the world of IPv4 to IPv6 has begun.
IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet Protocol, which identifies devices across the internet so they can be located. Every device that uses the internet is identified through its own IP address in order for internet communication to work. In that respect, it is just like the street addresses and zip codes you need to know in order to mail a letter.
The previous version, IPv4, uses a 32-bit addressing scheme to support 4.3 billion devices, which was thought to be enough. However, the growth of the internet, personal computers, smartphones, and now Internet of Things devices proves that the world needed more addresses.
Fortunately, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) recognized this 20 years ago. In 1998, it created IPv6, which instead uses 128-bit addressing to support approximately 340 trillion (or 2 to the 128th power, if you like). Instead of the IPv4 address method of four sets of one- to three-digit numbers, IPv6 uses eight groups of four hexadecimal digits, separated by colons.
There was an IPv5 that was also known as Internet Stream Protocol, abbreviated simply as ST. It was designed for connection-oriented communications across IP networks with the intent of supporting voice and video.
Even though IPv5 was never adopted publicly, it had used up the name IPv5.
On November 6, 2021, Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India, set December 2022 as the deadline for internet service providers to customize their network as well as change modem and routers at customers’ premises for the services as per the internet protocol address IPv6. All new retail wireline customer connections, provided by service providers after December 31, 2022, would need to be capable of carrying IPv6 traffic either on dual-stack on native IPv6.
India has 50-percent share in IPv6 addresses globally. With proliferation of IPv6 addresses, India can create its own secure internet by setting up its own root servers for communication within the country’s geographical boundaries.
At present, there are 13 root servers, which play a vital role in working on the internet globally. Eleven root servers are located in the US and one each in Europe and Japan. Under the present global regime, the internet can stop working if any of the root servers is switched off. With an indigenous root server, India can continue to communicate within its own jurisdiction after transition to IPv6.
The deadline to shift to IPv6 has been extended several times in the past. The DoT had released the first and second roadmap to roll out IPv6 addresses in the country in 2010 and 2012 to better the old regime of IPv4, which had a limit of 3 billion IP addresses. The direction was that the service providers endeavor to progressively replace/upgrade the CPEs (customer premises equipment), which are not IPv6-ready and owned by service providers latest by December 31, 2022.
The DoT in March 2013 decided that the websites of all government organizations maintained by NIC shall be transited to IPv6 (dual stack) by December 2012. All new wireline connections to be provided after June 2014 should have been on IPv6 or should have supported both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
The timeline was deferred to December 2017 for government organizations to switch their system to IPv6, changing of CPEs compliant with IPv6 by December 2017 and shifting of websites to IPv6-compliant servers by January 2017. The last deadline fixed by DoT for IPv6 migration for government organizations was March 2020, and December 2020 for other stakeholders, but still the target remained unmet.
The global adoption of IPv6 has been going well since its launch day all over the world nearly a decade ago. Many major nations have made great strides in doubling or tripling their IPv6 adoption rate, such as the US going from 23.5 percent to 40.4 percent in the past few years.
The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, seems to have sped up the adoption rate in some ways. Countries, such as India, Japan, Greece, and Switzerland, picked up noticeable jumps during those times.
Featuring the highest current adoption rate, India has had massive leaps and noticeable spikes in its growth, reaching 70.1 percent at its highest point. They did not even have 1 percent until March of 2016, but a huge spike within the next year put them at the mid-20s for percentages. Some smaller spikes and steady growth since then have them in 40 percent+ by 2018, and they have been above 50 percent for all of 2020 and beyond.
Germany, starting at 3.1-percent adoption in August of 2013, has had very steady growth with almost no drops or unexpected leaps. In fact, the country has had the smoothest growth with very little deviation out of all the top countries. By 2016, they were consistently above 20 percent, and by 2019, above 40 percent. They are usually above 50-percent adoption these days, even with small dips in their stats.
Satya N Gupta
“The transition to IPv6 even with a dual-stack mode will help in growth of internet usage, especially in the context of work from home as well as IoT ecosystem and upcoming 5G services because of the requirement of an enormous IP address which is not available with IPv4. In addition, transition to IPv6 will enhance the network security because of built-in ‘IPsec’ feature in the version 6.”
Belgium was at just 2.9 percent in August of 2013. They had a massive early spike and were in the mid 20-percent range in 2014. Growth stabilized around 2016 and ranged from 36–37 percent up to 51 percent over the course of the next few years. Currently, it stays at or above 45 percent regularly.
France began at 4.5 percent in August of 2013. By August of 2016, they were at 11.7 percent – a bit of slower growth. France stayed steady and went into 39 percent by late 2019 – and hit above 40 percent by April of 2020.
Japan started at 1.8 percent in August of 2013. They experienced slower growth, being only at 10.7 percent in August of 2016. This growth sped up over time. By 2018, they were consistently above 25 percent. They started breaking 40 percent in 2021.
Greece started off at a low 0.5 percent in August of 2013. They enjoyed regular growth and were above 20 percent consistently by mid-2016. By 2019, they were in the high 30s and were above 40 percent in 2020 and beyond.
Switzerland is a bit higher at 44.4 percent currently as of July 2021. They started at a higher rate than some other countries, at 6.7 percent by August of 2013. They were consistently above 20 percent by 2016. There were noticeable drops in some years, but by 2020, they stayed above 40 percent regularly.
The United States has been transitioning to IPv6 since August of 2013, with as little as 4 percent back then. By August of 2016, it was 23.5 percent. In the past 5 years, the US has gained an additional 17 percent progress. At its highest point, the US was at about 52.6 percent (May of 2018), but there have been setbacks in its transition. The United States is the only country to not have seen any noticeable growth in nearly four years. 40.7 percent in Sep of 2017 to >40.4 percent currently. The US has decided to switch off IPv4 addresses by 2024.
It is hard to say how long it will take for the adoption rate to become a majority (70-percent+) across many different countries, but with current trends and internet infrastructure improvements, we can hope for bigger jumps – and one day, a true IPv6 adoption that will result in a more efficient, secure system for all.