Wednesday, June 29, 2011

[CWHK] Are you ready for IPv6?

June 8 was World IPv6 Day, when over 400 organizations worldwide, including the HKSAR government, Internet Society Hong Kong (ISOC HK) and many of the local ISPs here, participated to "test drive" IPv6 with many popular web sites like Google, Facebook and Yahoo. The test went smoothly for 24 hours around the globe, and many Internet technologists called it a resounding success.

So what is the real status of IPv4 address depletion? On February 1, 2011, the global authority which distributes IP addresses, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), had only seven blocks of "/8" IPv4 addresses remaining, and as the address crunch situation was most severe in Asia Pacific, IANA first gave the region's regional Internet registry, Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC), two of these blocks. Then, on February 3, IANA distributed the final five blocks to the five regions of the world. IPv4 addresses were officially and genuinely depleted at the top level that day.

Asian Internet usage flares

Thanks to the rapid growth of the Internet in Asia and the presence of two of the largest and fastest growing Internet populations in the world -- China and India -- we have only 2% of IPv4 addresses left to be used at APNIC's level, while the number stands at 7-9% for Europe and North America, 28% for Latin America and 57% for Africa.

So on April 15, APNIC implemented a new policy: only its members will be allocated one block of "/22" addresses (1,024 addresses only), and these IPv4 addresses can only be used for IPv4 to IPv6 transition systems, and not for use as IPv4 addresses. When those are gone, any new service providers in Asia can only provide IPv6 services.

While it's true that at the end-user level there are IPv4 addresses left at the ISP level, ISPs are distributing them to customers much more prudently. This also gives rise to the market of "doomsday IPv4 address speculation" -- for instance, Microsoft bought 666,624 addresses from Nortel Networks in March for US$7.5 million -- that's $11.25 per address. Compared that to IPv6 addresses -- which outnumber IPv4 addresses by 4 billion times and are essentially free.

Isn't it human nature that people don't act until the last minute, or after? The global migration to IPv6 remains slow, but has picked up steam in the last few months as the IPv4 address pool begins to run out, starting from the top allocation level.

What about Hong Kong?

So where does Hong Kong stand? Compared to other Asian countries or regions, the HKSAR Government has done more than most other governments -- it's provided IPv6 support for most of the hundreds of government websites, as well as supporting IPv6 on the government backbone network. The same is truth for our public facilities such as Cyberport and our universities. But the most critical support must come from the service providers, and they are finally beginning to come online. At least six major local ISPs are providing "limited IPv6 support" for business users. Some ISPs are also already testing on residential broadband IPv6 services.

ISOC HK recently conducted a survey on Internet users about their knowledge and perception about IPv6. Surprisingly, over 90% of the respondents have heard of IPv6, and a significant proportion expressed that they are simply waiting for the infrastructure to become ready. Another positive sign is that many users do realize that the devices or operating systems that they are using today already support IPv6.

On World IPv6 Day, ISOC HK, along with Cyberport and other partners. held a seminar to update the Internet community about the current status of IPv6 deployment in Hong Kong and Asia -- over 400 people joined. During the past four years, through our training sessions conducted with APNIC, more than 300 engineers have received in-depth IPv6 technical training. After the technical community and the ISPs, next we're taking the message to the public and businesses, especially SMEs.

So, IPv6 is ready for the world, are we ready for it?

Published in Computerworld Hong Kong June 10 2011 issue


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