IPV6 Migration & Its Contingencies, Complexities & Implications: Final Chapter

In the last section of IPv6, my focus shifts to what Tier 1 carriers need to do in order to prepare for this massive transformation, along with the complexity of how one can transform and eliminate what I refer to as ‘migraine headaches’ of moving from IPv4 to IPv6. I will also focus on the potential impacts of the platform across the industry.

Tier 1 Carriers’ Market Interest in IPv6

Network equipment vendors offer a comprehensive set of offerings, including routers, switches and firewalls that support IPv6. Computer hardware and software vendors are aggressively pursuing IPv6. Every significant computer operating system and almost every network equipment vendor now has IPv6 support. Although hardware and software vendors have enabled the adoption of IPv6, the migration to IPv6 will take some time, with the migration occurring at different rates in different parts of the world.

The heaviest demand for new IPv6 addresses is in Asia, because that continent has struggled with a minimal allocation of IPv4 addresses (for example, US-based Level 3 Communications has about 48 million unique IP addresses from the allocation of three Class A domains, which is almost as many IPv4 addresses as have been allocated to the entire continent of Asia).

Enterprises in Asia are planning to adopt IPv6 technology because no IPv4 addresses are available to meet their current and future needs. Moreover, Japan, South Korea and China have federal mandates and incentives for the private sector to adopt IPv6 on an accelerated schedule. IPv6 nodes use the Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP) to discover other nodes on the link, to determine their link-layer addresses to find routers and to maintain reachability information about the paths to active neighbors. If not secured, NDP is vulnerable to various attacks. See: RFC 3971.

IPv6 Migrations Considerations

China is testing IPv6 networks in some big cities around the country. Japan has already implemented an IPv6 production network, which is used by every service provider in the country.

South Korea is working with the European Union to develop applications and services using IPv6. Not only does IPv6 provide a way to meet the shortage of Internet addresses in Asia, but there is a growing opinion that early adoption of IPv6 offers a competitive advantage for Asia relative to the US for technological leadership in the internet. This view is also held within the European Union.

The migration to IPv6 is slower in Europe than in Asia, but the European Union has mandated that in the next few years, network devices must support IPv6. The EU launched a large research IPv6 network in January 2004 and currently, IPv6 is used extensively on several large research networks in Europe and Asia. Commercial IPv6 service is available in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia, as well as throughout Europe, including the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain.

There has also been a lot of interest in IPv6 in the US among the research and vendor communities, but the high cost of rolling it out has deterred service providers from introducing it. Implementing IPv6 requires replacing the IP stacks on routers, switches and other networking equipment and supporting IPv6 on servers, hosts and other end devices. Some industry analysts have said that it will be a long time before IPv6 will be used by North American carriers, as measures such as NAT extend the life of IPv4.

The greatest impetus for the movement to IPv6 in the US comes from the internet mobility, US Department of Defense and government agencies worldwide.

A key area for the adoption of IPv6 is for use by digital mobile devices. The use of IPv6 is mandated in Release 8 of the LTE Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), which develops standards for advanced mobile networks. Specifically, UMTS Release 5 mandates IPv6 in all handsets and the 3G Internet Multimedia Subsystem is defined to run only on IPv6.

The Players

Consortia and research projects are playing a major role in driving the adoption of IPv6. Among the most important of these are:

Internet2, a consortium led by over 200 universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies, is actively deploying IPv6 on campus, regional and backbone networks.

Potential Impacts

Supporting IPv6 should be an important part of future strategy for providing IP services.

In particular, companies should have a plan for IPv6 that can be executed as demand arises. It is also important to demonstrate activity in IPv6 trials to be competitive with major competitors.

Operators should also have a public policy position and transition plan that can be provided to public policy makers, such as the Department of Commerce, DoD, global policy forums important to operators’ global IP networking business, large customers and business suppliers. Operators should consider providing IPv6 services in the US and possibly throughout Asia and Europe as well. Many recent bids from large corporations have asked for carriers’ IPv6 plans.

Several large customers, such as IBM and Apple, have strong pushes for IPv6. Furthermore, it will become crucial to offer IPv6 services for US government contracts, especially for the DoD due to their mandated support for IPv6 and is transition plan.

Operators have done a limited amount of work on IPv6, procuring a block of IPv6 addresses and developing a draft policy for address assignment, as well as IPv6 prototyping and testing and participation in the Moon6 Project. There are also proposals for developing a high-level IPv6 service plan.

This should include plans for OSSs to support IPv6 services. It would also be worthwhile to work to create an “IPv6 community” involving existing customers and business partners. This will provide customers a reason to begin using IPv6. It will be important to continue to strongly support IPv4 because the internet today runs on IPv4 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In addition, it also needs to provide tools that help our customers use both IPv4 and IPv6, and to begin using IPv6 in their enterprise, such as on a VPN extranet.

Operators could partner with equipment vendors to help its customers make this migration and educate their customers as to the benefits of IPv6, beyond just the availability of additional addresses. By aggressively supporting IPv6, they might be able to win new business from enterprises that might be slower to move to IPv6, and will certainly be more competitive within the government marketplace.

Operators also need to work closely with equipment vendors to get full IPv6 support. Many vendors operators use still do not support IPv6, and even ones that do (e.g., Cisco) only support it with various limitations on performance and features. Currently, the only major router vendor to provide full support for IPv6 is Juniper Networks. Supporting IPv6 will have major systems potential impacts, as so many of the systems supporting IP service rely on a 32-bit address as a key into a database. Many of the rules used by the industry, including carriers, to manage IPv4 addresses will also need to change in an IPv6 environment. Consequently, an IPv6 service plan needs to be mapped out that will identify the range of services that may want to run over IPv6, including inter-working services with IPv4 and new services such as any casting. Network development plans should be formulated and implementation plans need to work actively with the relevant standards groups to ensure the evolution of standards in this area that are adopted broadly across the global network provider/supplier base.

Dr. Hossein Eslambolchi