The New Internet Has Arrived — Now What?

You’ve probably heard that the Internet is running out of IP addresses. The consequences would be severe if this happened — millions of potential Internet users could be deprived of Internet access and all its benefits.

As bad as this sounds, don’t panic yet. Most ISPs are upgrading their networks to support the transition to IPv6, and content providers are following suit. 

Starting at the IPv6 World Launch Day on June 6th, 2012, many of the world’s most popular Web sites will make content permanently accessible over IPv6. While the launch will expose some problems with “broken” IPv6 implementations in operating systems and browsers, most end users will get the content they want over IPv6 without issues.

So if there won’t be major service disruptions for the billions of Internet users worldwide, why should we care? Because the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is the biggest single change in IP networking since the start of the Internet. And while it is a functional inevitability, the “new” Internet also presents a huge opportunity for enterprises, operators and content providers to turn the network transition from a necessity into a valuable business tool.

How we got in this situation and why we will get out

Internet Protocol 4, or “IPv4,” is one of the original Internet protocols that specifies the source and destination for data transferred over the Internet. Due to rapid Internet growth and our insatiable appetite for new devices, we’ve now used up over 93 percent of available IPv4 addresses.

The remaining 300 million unallocated IP addresses will go fast. Analysts estimate the number of Internet-connected devices could triple in the next three years from around 5 billion today to 15 billion by 2015. This increase will be driven by the ever increasing number of smartphones, TVs, portable gaming devices, tablets and laptops, as well as a variety of new smart devices such as home monitoring systems, appliances, smart meters and even automobiles.

The only long-term solution is for ISPs to upgrade their networks to IPv6, giving them more IP addresses. The good news is that they are.

Network-based solutions and applications provider Nominum surveyed 67 ISPs — which provide Internet service to over 110 million households — about their IPv6 plans. We found that 97 percent of these companies have implemented or plan to implement IPv6: 23 percent have already done so, 35 percent plan to do so this year and 39 percent plan to do so in 2013 or later. Not surprisingly, expanding the pool of IP addresses in order to grow their business was the number one business reason for making the change.

The business case for IPv6

It has been said that there is no business case for IPv6 for enterprises. This is simply not true.

Google and other forward-looking content providers are aggressively promoting IPv6. Why? What value do they see that most other enterprises don’t yet?

These are a few business cases to consider:

  • Increased customer loyalty — IPv6 makes “connection-intensive” content such as Facebook or Google Maps faster and enables new applications such as peer-to-peer gaming.
  • Higher network efficiency — IPv6 supports much larger packet size, which makes downloading videos and accessing cloud applications faster and less expensive.
  • Cost reduction — Many large enterprises (especially ones that have made acquisitions) have multiple “islands” of identical private IP addresses connected together by expensive Network Address Translators (NATs) that can be eliminated with IPv6.
  • Increased revenue — IPv6 addresses contain much more information than IPv4 addresses including the device manufacturer and Mac address, a unique identifier for each device on the network. This will make it easier for ISPs to offer their subscribers optional network-based apps like parental controls that allow families to choose what content their kids are allowed to view from any device. It will also allow content providers and their advertisers to more accurately target search results, content and advertisements to specific people and devices based on their IP address. In fact, this may be the biggest motivation for many ad-driven content-providers to adopt IPv6.

Now What?

Now is a good time for every network operator to think about how IPv6 fits into his or her future plans. Beyond looking at their need for IP addresses, companies should consider other business benefits such as the ones above. ISPs should continue interoperability testing and carefully monitor the pace of IPv4 exhaustion versus their current deployment plans.

Large enterprises should:

  • Verify that all new network equipment and applications purchased are IPv6 compatible.
  • Evaluate how IPv6 could help in their cloud initiatives.
  • Consider conducting an IPv6 pilot of their Web site.
  • Consider upgrading users to more recent operating systems such as Windows 7 or OS X Lion with better IPv6 support in advance of any deployment.

Small businesses should ask about their ISP’s plans to offer IPv6 service. Like the introduction of other major technologies, including the Internet itself, we are probably underestimating the change IPv6 will bring once broadly deployed. Once IPv6 is deployed there will surely be new applications that we haven’t yet thought of, and the Internet user’s experience will be better than ever before. Innovative companies will find ways to use this transition to improve efficiency, increase competitive differentiation and become more agile.

As Manager of Fixed Broadband Solutions, Craig oversees worldwide product marketing for Nominum.

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