An Internet Protocol (IP) is a communications protocol system that identifies and locates computers or devices on networks, and routes traffic across the internet.
According to Vint Cerf, founder of Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and current Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, Pv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) became the underlying protocol for the global internet when it was first designed in 1973. However, the founders of the internet did not anticipate the explosion of the internet. IPv4 address space allocation — similar to telephone numbers — is sufficient for only 4.3 billion termination points in the internet. Its store of 32-bit addresses was never intended to facilitate the formation of the global commercial internet as it exists today.
As a result of the expansion of the global internet, and increase in connected computers and devices, the IPv4 address “free pool” for the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN — which administers number resource allocation in Canada, the United States, and parts of the Caribbean), was completely depleted by September 2015. (See Figure 19.) The remaining four Regional Internet Registries (RIR) are also nearing depletion of IPv4 number resources. This has resulted in an IPv4 address transfer market, where organizations with an excess of IPv4 resources can either return them to the RIR, or sell them to another organization that qualifies for resources under an RIR policy.
When ISPs run out of viable IPv4 addresses, an ISP may not be able to give individual subscribers their own IPv4 address. Instead, to conserve resources, they may opt to put customers behind Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CGN, NAT).
Engineers began to recognize IPv4 depletion would become a problem in 1998, and began developing the next generation protocol, IPv6. IPv6, which supports 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses, was developed and formally adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force in 1998.
IPv6 is comprised of unique 128-bit address as opposed to 32-bit addresses, and therefore features an exponentially larger pool of addresses to accommodate exponential growth of connected computers.
Figure 19. IPv4 Depletion in the ARIN Region197
While IPv6 has existed as a protocol for almost 20 years, uptake has been slow until the recent exhaustion of the IPv4 free pool. Because the majority of the internet continues to be accessible via IPv4 only, IPv6 must coexist concurrently, or side by side, with the fullyfunctional IPv4 public internet. This “dual stack” architecture will continue to be necessary into the foreseeable future, until such a time that IPv6 becomes the default standard. “Tunneling” is a method which allows IPv4 and IPv6 to coexist. When two systems on the edge of a network support IPv6, but the routers on the public internet between them do not, IPv6 packets can be put inside IPv4 packets, and “tunneled.” Additionally, IPv6 packets can be translated into IPv4 packets utilizing NAT64 — a Network Address Translation technique.
Without the expansion of IPv6, and eventual replacement of IPv4, diffusion of the internet — including expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), the “industrial internet” and sensor networks — will be limited by the resource and network management constraints of IPv4. The sheer quantity of devices projected to come online cannot be supported by IPv4. The future of internet connected devices and sensor networks relies on the transition to IPv6.
Google collects and publishes statistics on IPv6 adoption rates based on the percentage of users accessing Google with an IPv6 connection. According to its statistics, Canada has adopted IPv6 at a rate of 8.95%, whereas the United States has adopted IPv6 at a rate of 28.96%.198 CIRA reports different numbers at only 2.4% IPv6 adoption in Canada and even less at 2.06% in Alberta.199
Figure 20. IPv6 Adoption in Canada and the United States based on accessing Google via an IPv6 connection (as of 13 July 2016)200
According to Google’s statistics, IPv6 adoption has increased rapidly in recent years. This can likely be attributed to the exhaustion of IPv4 resources, leading to the increased immediacy of a full transition to the new protocol.
Figure 21. Global IPv6 Adoption over time based on accessing Google via an IPv6 connection (as of 13 July 2016)201
The American Registry for Internet Numbers shows similar statistics for uptake based on member ISP requests for IPv6 resources (Figure 22).
Figure 22. ARIN ISP Members with IPv4 and IPv6 2010-2016202
The Internet Society measures and reports elements of IPv6 deployment on the global internet via the World IPv6 Launch website. Of the 255 networks participating in World IPv6 Launch, Telus ranked 12th in the world in terms of overall IPv6 traffic volume, with 45.92% IPv6 deployment. Rogers Communications (which comprises a significant portion of the mobile wireless market in Alberta) ranked 36th, with 7% IPv6 deployment on its network.203
Governments have the opportunity to play an important role in promoting IPv6 expansion and awareness. First, governments can implement IPv6 in their internal network operations and product cycles. Second, they can coordinate with industry to provide incentives for IPv6 adoption. Third, governments can make IPv6 functionality a condition of any network infrastructure related procurement. There are free resources available for IPv6 training available through ARIN’s IPv6 wiki, and consultants working in the area of IPv6 offer workshops and seminars to assist network policy makers and operators with the transition.
197. ARIN. ARIN on the Road in Edmonton presentation, IPv4 Depletion Recap, p. 60, 3 May 2016. Accessed 13 July 2016.
198. Google. IPv6 Statistics, North America. Accessed 13 July 2016.
199. CIRA. Canada’s Internet Performance: National, Provincial, and Municipal Analysis. April 2016.
200. Google. IPv6 Adoption Statistics. Accessed 13 July 2016.
201. Google. IPv6 Adoption Statistics. Accessed 13 July 2016.
202. ARIN. ARIN on the Road in Edmonton presentation, IPv6 Adoption, p. 183, 3 May 2016. Accessed 13 July 2016.
203. Internet Society. World IPv6 Launch Measurements. Accessed 13 July 2016.