Remember all those dire warnings a few years back about the Internet running out of IP addresses? Experts said a connectivity crisis was looming unless companies quickly adopted IPv6, a new Internet protocol with a capacity of no less than 340 undecillion addresses.
Today, the headlines on IPv6 have died down and you may think the experts were crying “wolf”. But nothing could be further from the truth. The crisis may have taken longer than expected to arrive, but the new IPv6 age is still coming. Companies that fail to ready themselves face potential disruption of their business as well as missed opportunities to target their customers more effectively.
Explosion of devices
IP addresses are the identifiers that enable any Internet-enabled device to communicate with one another, so it stands to reason that if there aren’t enough of them to go around, chaos could ensue. With the expansion of Internet capabilities from PCs to smart phones, tablets, TVs and appliances, some 50 billion Internet-enabled devices are expected to be online by 2020. That exceeds by ten times the address capacity of the current protocol, IPv4, which can support 4.3 billion addresses. And while ISPs in the U.S. have come up with workarounds to stretch the number of available addresses—by reassigning defunct addresses to new customers, for example—regional Internet registries in Asia Pacific and the Europe & the Middle East have already run out of addresses, with other regions predicted to soon follow.
Adapting to the new protocol requires ISPs and home networking equipment manufacturers, as well as any company with a web site, to make sure their products are IPv6 compliant. It must be implemented end to end, meaning the new protocol must be enabled by network hardware vendors, transit providers, access providers, content providers, as well as endpoint hardware makers.
While things have been slow to get off the ground since the Internet Society sponsored the first IPv6 world launch in June 2012, there are signs of a pickup in the pace. One indicator: the number of Google users accessing the site via IPv6 is accelerating, growing from 2.78 percent in January to over 4 percent in July. Tim Rooney, director of the project management team at BT Diamond IP, an IP address management company, predicts that growth will reach between roughly 10 and 15 percent by the end of 2015. And the Internet Society believes that by 2018, IPv6 will be the dominant protocol.
Companies need to wake up
Yet most companies appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude about adapting to the new protocol, perhaps thinking it is solely the job of ISPs to make the switch. One problem identified by ARIN (The American Registry for Internet Numbers), which registers and manages IP address numbers for the U.S., Canada, and selected Caribbean and North Atlantic islands, is a lack of skills and training. Companies need personnel comfortable operating and maintaining networks that run IPv6, as well as running a dual stack—a network that supports both the old and the new protocols in the transition. That means everyone from help desk personnel, database experts and application developers needs to be retrained.
Failing to upgrade has a number of consequences, according to John Curren, ARIN president and CEO. First, your website might not be reachable to potential customers whose providers are offering IPv6. And second, your company may be missing out on key targeting information on where your customers are located.
That’s because many service providers are setting up connectivity gateways to help those that are not yet on board with IPv6 still have access. But marketers in particular are missing out if they use those gateways rather than set up their own direct IPv6 connections. Why? Because when you use such a gateway, you won’t be able to see where your customer is actually coming from. So you’ll be missing out on some key targeting information. Upgrading to IPv6 is crucial if you want these types of analytics, Curren says.