The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the IP address authority, recently confirmed that its pool of IPv4 addresses has shrunk to 90K and will be exhausted within weeks. Many cable MSOs started migrating to IPv6 a while ago. For example, a key aspect of Comcast’s IPv6 program is to make the company’s content available over IPv6. But what about those who put it off? Are we on the verge of an IP nightmare? We talked to Stephane Bourque, pres/CEO of Incognito Software Systems, which counts global broadband providers as clients, about the transitioning and potential problems.

What are the challenges of the transition?

Shifting to a dual-stack IPv6/IPv4 world takes time and a great deal of planning. For most providers, the main issue is the cost associated with upgrading customer premises equipment (CPE) and network infrastructure. There are also routing changes, network planning, staff training and IP address management to consider, all of which may come at a cost to the business. ARIN has been warning for some time that it has been running out of public IPv4 addresses, however some providers have been slow to act. They may have had enough existing IPv4 resources to meet their current demand, or they may rely on workarounds, such as network address translation (NAT), or intend to purchase IPv4 addresses from other organizations on the transfer market. The problem with this strategy of stretching IPv4 resources to delay IPv6 adoption is that it can quickly become expensive and can’t be sustained. With IPv6, operators have the opportunity to break free from workarounds and renumber their network from scratch. IPv6 offers greater security by enhancing stronger firewalls, VPNs and next-gen applications, and makes name-based security attacks more difficult. Multiple subs sharing a single public IPv4 address could potentially affect the quality of service of a system where an IPv4 address uniquely identifies an Internet sub.

How will this affect the future of broadband?

As time goes on, IPv6 will become the “new normal,” and refusing to adopt IPv6 could be problematic. Eventually all websites, applications and consumer devices will move over to IPv6. Subscriber services such as VPNs will cease to work on IPv4, while access to next-generation apps may be limited. Global companies such as Google have already deployed IPv6 and are likely to soon launch services that require IPv6. Providers stuck in an IPv4-only world may be faced with increasingly complex networks or find that their subscribers demand IPv6 to access these new applications and services.

How can companies streamline their transition?

Most providers will look at running IPv4 and IPv6 in dual-stack mode. To enable IPv6 devices, routing, firewalls, load balancers and DNS servers must all be IPv6-ready. In almost all cases, a new IPv6 numbering plan will be required, and service providers will also need to look at new methods for device provisioning, as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) works differently with IPv6 than with IPv4. Steps may include: Creating a detailed numbering plan; determining IPv6 hierarchy and design; auditing network and application systems for IPv6 support; acquiring IPv6 address management tools, and ensuring device provisioning supports IPv6.

Should the average broadband user be concerned?

Right now, there is no need for the average consumer to be concerned. Our 2014 global survey found that more than three-quarters of communication service providers are currently transitioning to IPv6, while only 14% are IPv6-ready and 10% had not started preparations. A lack of IPv4 resources was largely the reason behind adoption. This indicates that it may be a few years until IPv6 is widely adopted and offered to end users; however most providers see the need to adopt IPv6.

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