Small ISPs way ahead of big telecoms in IPv6 adoption

In the run up to rolling out IPv6 connectivity to their customers, small Internet service providers (ISPs) in Canada have a leg up over the country’s large incumbent telcos.

In the last 15 years, Internet policy makers and engineers have been advocating a transition from the current Internet addressing scheme, known as IPv4, to the next generation IPv6. IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses and is able to support 4.3 billion devices, is running out of addresses. With the explosion of Web-connected consumer devices world-wide, it is estimated that only two per cent of the original Internet space available in IPv4 in North America remains. Some experts believe the IPv4 addresses will be depleted this year.

The replacement protocol, IPv6 on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and has “virtually limitless space,” according to Paul Vixie, president of Internet Systems Consortium, a non-profit corporation dedicated to developing and maintaining production quality open source reference implementation of core Internet protocols. The number of addresses available through IPv6 is roughly 3.4 followed by 38 zeros. That’s enough to assign “trillions upon trillions” of addresses, according to Jennifer Austin, senior manager of communications and marketing for the Canadian Internet registration Authority (CIRA).

When the remaining IPv4 spaces go, ISPs can no longer allocate IPv4 addresses to new customers. “That is why there is a world-wide call to transition to IPv6,” according to Jag Bains, director of network operations for global online IT hosting Peer 1 Hosting. “While we realize getting everyone IPv6 complaint and rolling out IPV6 connectivity to users could take a few more years, we hope adoption could be faster.”

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The problem for businesses with a Web presence stuck on a IPv4 connection when a large number of users are already on IPv6, is that these businesses run the risk of not being able to communicate with customers using the new protocol, he said. “That’s why it is important to find out if your ISP provider or Web hosting firm is already prepared for IPv6. ”

Are you ready for IPv6? Find out and click on this IPv6 connection test.

Large telcos and ISP providers, Bains said, are least likely than their smaller counterparts to be IPv6 ready today. “They’re heavily invested into their existing networks based on the old protocol it will not be as easy or cheap to transition.”

“Another factor is that some ISPs are probably arguing that there are not yet ‘enough eyeballs’ on IPv6 to justify a shift,” Bains added.

Peer 1 Hosting recently launched an IPv6-enabled 10 GB backbone network. Peer 1 now supports both IPv6 and IPv4 traffic. This IPv6 system is currently in beta phase. In addition to offering capabilities for traffic on both protocols, it allows co-location and transits customers to test the network through Peer 1’s data centres.

Bains said Peer 1 is well aware of the business risks to its customers posed by IPv4 exhaustion. “Thankfully our IPv4 reserves are in very good shape and out network engineering team has spent the last few years planning for IPv6.”

Another small Canadian Internet firm with an experimental IPv6 service, is ISP provider TekSavvy Solutions Inc. of Chatham, Ont.

In a recent article from BGP Mon, a maker of Internet monitoring tools, TekSavvy was noted as being among the few early IPv6 adapters in Canada. Larger ISPs including the country’s top three telcos, Rogers Communications, Bell Canada and Telus Corp. were listed as IPv4 leaders but where not among the list of providers offering IPv6.

The IPv6 leaders in Canada, according to BGP Mon were Hurricane Electric, Tata, Global Crossing, Level 3 and NTT America.

“It’s fair to say that the Canadian IPv6 transit market is dominated by non-Canadian companies specifically, large global companies,” the article said. “In fact, most of the Canadian transit providers that are market leaders in IPv4 do not provide transit to any IPv6 network. The exceptions are Peer 1, Cogeco Cable, and Shaw.”

BGP Mon, however, put Canada’s IPv6 deployment at eight per cent, which it said was at par with that of the rest of the world.

ITBusiness.ca asked Bell, Rogers and Telus about the IPv6 transition startegies but got very little answers.

Telus said it preparing its network for a transition to IPv6.

”Telus is making good progress in preparing its communication infrastructure and systems for supporting IPv6 services, and we will be ready in lots of time for the industry adoption of IPv6,” said Shawn Hall, senior communications manager for the company said in a statement yesterday.

Hall said Telus has been actively involved in international forums discussing the IPv6 issue but can not reveal specific details. As you know, the Internet business in Canada is extremely competitive. Because of this, we wouldn’t publicly release the specific steps we’re taking to prepare for the upgrade to IPv6.”

Rogers said the company has been planning its IPv6 integration for the past five years. “We are on track for a smooth transition and we will let you know when we are ready,” said Sara Holland, senior manager, Rogers Regional Communications.

When IPv4 addresses runout Rogers will enable both IPv4 address sharing and IPv6 transition technologies, Holland said.

“IPv4 address sharing will allow customers access to the IPv4 Internet while major content providers and applications move to support IPv6,” Holland said. “IPv6 transition technologies will be then be used to help customers have seamless Internet access.”

Albert Lee, media relations at Bell said: “Bell has adequate address space for the foreseeable future.”

Small business IPv6 issues

The upgrade to IPv6 could demand software tweaks to computers, servers, routers data centres and smartphones around the world. While large enterprises could be looking at some major work, for many small and medium sized businesses the switch over could be as finding an ISP provider or Web hosting firm that offer’s IPv6, according to Alex Krohn, owner and founder of Gossamer Threads, a Vancouver-based Web development and hosting company.

“It’s going to be a network issue for us. The question for us is will our host be able to provide IPv6,” said Krohn. He thinks his company is in good shape. Gossamer Threads is a customer of Peer 1 and buys connectivity from the company.

But Krohn said many companies are being lulled into complacency. “It’s not a critical issue now but it will be a major issue in the near future.”

Apart from the dwindling IPv4 addresses, Krohn foresees a lot of confusion ensuing in the actual stretch of time when companies and users and gradually stitching over from the old to the new protocol. “There could be a moment when businesses need to decide if they’ll support their IPv6 customers or their IPv4 customers.”

For instance, he said, in the early days of IPv6, two per cent of the business’s customers might be early adopters of the new protocol and the rest could be tied to IPv4. Do you chase after the emerging IPv6 customer or hold onto you clients using the older protocol because they constitute a larger share of your business?

Some of the strategies being tried today include:

Dual stacking, tunneling and other solutions

The solution, Krohn said, would be to seek a provider that can offer some sort of IPv4 and IPv6 interoperability to bridge the gap in the interim.

At the moment, according to Bains of Peer 1, there are a number of strategies that are being proposed to deal with this. IPv6 and IPv4 are two completely separate protocols. “IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4 and IPv4 hosts and routers will not be able to directly deal with IPv6 traffic,” he said.

Tunneling

In the absence of an IPv6 capable network between two IPv6 hosts, tunneling is used to provide connectivity between them. This is done by encapsulating IPv6 packets within IPv4, in effect using IPv4 as a link layer for IPv6.

Dual Stack

Dual-stack servers are used as proxies to perform protocol translation with one proxy server per application (http, ftp, smtp, etc), according to the Network Telecommunications Research Group. This, the NTRG said, has the advantage that very few IPv4 addresses are required (they are only needed for the proxies), and the protocol translation step may not be such a large price to pay in situations where firewalls and proxy server already exist, which is the case in many LANs

Dual Stack Transition Mechanism (DSTM)

All hosts have dual stacks, but they do not have permanent IPv4 addresses. IPv4 addresses are temporarily assigned whenever a host contacts or is contacted by and IPv4 host. The host encapsulates all its IPv4 packets within IPv6 headers to tunnel them over the local IPv6 network. When the DSTM router at the edge of the network sees these packets, they are decapsulated. This would find natural uses on networks where IPv4 addresses are already allocated dynamically, said the NTRG.

Carrier Grade Network Address Translator (NAT) also called GNAT

A CGN, also known as a Large Scale NAT (LSN), is intended to bridge IPv6 and IPv4 hosts, so that they communicate with each other. An example of a real world scenario would be having an IPv6 mobile phone using a CGN to access content on an IPv4 host. At its core, a CGN is a simply middle box that translates multiple hosts with IPv6 addresses to a small set of IPv4 addresses, so that communication can be realized with the global IPv4 network at large.

For more information of IPv6 and IPv4 interoperability solutions check out:

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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  • Clinton

    This article has out of date now. TELUS has completed a IPV6 dual-stack deployment for their consumer Internet customers.