Network Infrastructure

The Real Deal on IPv6 Migration

By Special Guest
Marc Lindsey and Janine Goodman , Marc Lindsey is president and co-founder and Janine Goodman is vice president and co-founder of Avenue4 LLC
  |  December 09, 2015

When the American Registry for Internet Numbers (News - Alert) depleted its IPv4 free pool on Sept. 24, 2015, the news quickly spread across the trade press: IPv4 is gone, and the time to transition to IPv6 is now.   

The “What’s new this week,” article posted at the time on announced “ARIN (News - Alert) says that its North American region really is out of digits this time, and the only solution, is to take the IPv6 plunge.”  Several articles failed to even mention that IPv4 numbers are readily available through the IPv4 trading market.  

All of this press would make you think IPv6 is just around the corner, except that’s not what the facts on the ground tell us. 

  • The number of transfers and volume of numbers traded in the IPv4 market are growing significantly. By the end of the third quarter of 2014, the ARIN registry recorded transfers of nearly 2,000,000 numbers. By the end of the third quarter of 2015, ARIN’s registry reflected the transfer of 23 million numbers. These numbers understate the actual market activity because they exclude the IPv4 numbers that have changed hands via the grey market, where buyers and sellers transact business without seeking ARIN’s approval or updating the ARIN registry.
  • Companies participating in the market are buying for the future. Internet network operators are not investing in IPv4 for the short term. Many of them have, instead, been buying in volumes that anticipate their forecasted need over the next 3 to 4 years. 
  • ARIN appears bullish on the market. ARIN continues to hold onto legacy (pre-exhaustion) policies that attempt to apply volume caps on market transfers. This policy position is rooted in a belief that, without such caps, buyers and sellers acting on their own business judgment would deplete the inventory of secondary IPv4 market numbers too quickly – implicitly acknowledging that full IPv6 migration is still many years away.
  • IPv6 adoption is still slow. Google (News - Alert) content stats, World IPv6 Launch stats, and Alexa Top 1000 stats collectively show companies are moving toward IPv6 slowly, recent events notwithstanding. In its July 2015 Visual Networking Index Report, Cisco (News - Alert) predicted that less than half of all fixed and mobile networked devices would be IPv6 capable by 2019, at which point IPv6 traffic would still only account for a third of total Internet traffic globally.
  • Insiders know it’s a long road ahead for IPv6. Network architects and engineers  responsible for designing, maintaining and enhancing the network infrastructures for some of the largest network operators and enterprise end users recognize that  it may take as long as a decade for IPv6 to take hold globally as the dominant Internet protocol.

Organizations making difficult Internet technology decisions need to discern these facts and the real challenges of navigating the costly and resource-intensive transition to IPv6. Not every network operator, enterprise end user, or content provider can afford to make an immediate investment in IPv6-ready network gear, software, and IP-based solutions like UC and IPT – and they shouldn’t have to. The global migration to IPv6 should allow enough time for both the well-heeled and early stage network operators to plan the transition on a schedule that makes sense technically, commercially, and financially.

With the sluggish pace of IPv6 migration, it is understandable why Internet institutions with vested interests in moving the Internet community as quickly as possible to IPv6 have been promoting the IPv6 or bust message. The promotion may help spur to action some members of the Internet community. It is equally important to provide accurate and actionable information to help companies leverage their existing IPv4 investment until they can make the switch to IPv6.  Now that the free pool is dry, and the market is the only means for organizations to obtain the additional IPv4 numbers they still need to run their Internet networks, Internet institutions such as ARIN and the other RIRs should be promoting an efficient IPv4 transfer market in their community outreach, support resources, and policies.       

Companies need to know there are options that will enable them to plan an IPv6 migration that minimizes costs and fits with their natural technology cycles. ARIN and other Internet registries can play a significant role in making that happen – by dismantling policies designed to restrain market activity, encouraging policies that will facilitate market transparency and registration accuracy, while also informing the business community of ways to address the real challenges of implementing IPv6.   

With the depletion of the IPv4 free pool, the IPv4 trading market is inextricably intertwined with the success of the IPv6 transition. Given how few end users and network operators (globally) completed the transition prior to free-pool depletion, participation in the IPv4 market is a part of the critical path to full IPv6 migration. Putting up roadblocks will only slow the journey. 

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere