The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 11, No. 4

Letters to the Editor

IPv4 Address Exhaustion

I read with interest your article in The Internet Protocol Journal (Volume 11, No. 3, September 2008) regarding the IPv4 address exhaustion problem. It occurs to me that two approaches for encouraging the public and Internet Service Provider (ISP) community to migrate to IPv6 are being dismissed somewhat, but used creatively together might offer some hope for pushing us in that direction: government regulation and changing the fact that there isn't a public interest in IPv6.

What if government regulation forced a new or currently existing common service to use IPv6? One obvious possibility is video content. Since the broadcast industry is already regulated by the FCC, further regulation providing for governance of this type of application isn't too much of a stretch. Consumer demand is likely to increase in this area as broadband continues to be widely deployed, and if the public were required to run in dual-stack mode to access it, the likelihood of adoption would be much greater. It would also incent the ISPs to provide connectivity to the IPv6 address space, possibly even with a revenue-generating model behind it.

I reluctantly bring up the pornography industry as another type of content that could be relegated to the IPv6 address space. It is my understanding that this type of traffic as a percentage of the total is quite large. Based on this assumption, it would have the same effect of forcing the large portions of the public and ISPs to provide connectivity to the IPv6 address space. Again, I mention this industry reluctantly, but from a political perspective regulation of this industry and its content is likely to be an easier proposal for the public to support since you could use the "value" of disconnected portions of the Internet to best advantage.

I realize that the global nature of the Internet makes regulation and the subsequent enforcement extremely difficult. But, I also assume that even if our enforcement were controlled only at the perimeter of the U.S. traffic it would have a strong effect on the behavior of the public and ISPs.

Best regards,

—John Newell, INX Inc.

The author responds:

Thanks for your response. It is true to say that various efforts have been undertaken across many years to find a "killer-app" for IPv6, if I may be permitted to use that overabused and by now very tired term. To date these efforts have not been successful. That's not because of any lack of trying.

There have been some really quite innovative ideas for IPv6 over the years, and so far most of them have been retrofitted into IPv4 one way or another. From one perspective this retrofit is entirely logical, given that good ideas tend to thrive in locations where audiences are receptive, and today's IPv4 Internet is still a very fertile place for good ideas to flourish.

The other part of the problem is that service providers tend to create innovative services with existing markets in minds, so these days the novel applications and services that appear to gain the attention of significant parts of the user base tend to operate in the IPv4 network, and by necessity such applications and services account for Network Address Translation (NAT) devices and various forms of filters and firewalls.

These observations indicate that a certain reinforcing cycle exists that cements the existing role of the IPv4 Internet, and tends to work against the widespread deployment of innovative services that are feasible only in the IPv6 environment.

So if the adoption of IPv6 is a carrot or stick affair, our efforts to find some tempting carrots have, so far, not been overly successful. We've been unable to identify particular goods or services for which there is a compelling case of consumer demand coupled with a set of technology constraints that imply that the service is feasible only across a deployed IPv6 infrastructure with IPv6 endpoints. So if the field we are working in is bereft of carrots, are there any available sticks that we can use instead? In this case there is the same old stick that originally motivated iPv6 in the first place: We are running out of IPv4 addresses. If we believe that there is more to do in the Internet, more people to connect, more devices to add, more conversations to have, more services to deploy, more ideas to realize, and more objectives to achieve, then IPv4 cannot in and of itself sustain that vision for the Internet. The threat here is that the growth of the IPv4 Internet may well cease when the supply of further IPv4 addresses is exhausted.

Is this threat of network stagnation going to be enough to propel us into an IPv6 Internet? Will it be an adequate motivator to encourage the necessary investment in network infrastructure and in the provision of goods and services that first operate in a transitional dual-stack environment, and ultimately in an IPv6 world? I hope that the answers are "yes," as do many others I'm sure.

But I'm also worried that it may not be enough and that we may spin off into an entirely different trajectory that ultimately dismantles most of the attributes of today's Internet. I worry that instead of an open network that fosters innovation and creativity we might end up with "vertical integration" and "transparent convergence" and a network that actively resists new services and applications.

So for me, and I hope many others, IPv6 needs no new "killer-app." IPv6 does not need television or pornography to succeed. IPv6 is an imperative for the Internet simply because the alternatives to IPv6 appear to offer us a leap backward in technology and a leap backward in the elastic ways we've been able to use networks—and in the process we are going to destroy the Internet as we know it!


—Geoff Huston, APNIC

Dear Ole,

In his latest IPJ article (Volume 11, No. 3), Geoff Huston highlights the significance of NAT as a mechanism enabling service providers to externalize the costs and risks arising from IPv4 address scarcity. While acknowledging the increased burden and uncertainty borne by end users and NAT-traversing applications, Geoff speculates that the success of this mechanism is likely to inspire the deployment of yet another level of ("carrier grade") address translation, to further prolong if not absolutely preclude the incorporation of IPv6 by incumbent service providers. While entirely plausible, such a move would create the same kind of “double blind” conditions for Internet service delivery that prevailed in financial markets when debt securitization was coupled with the externalization of asset depreciation risks in the form of Credit Default Swaps. In such cases, the second layer of indirection tends to make it all too easy to maintain self-serving assumptions (and/or plausible deniability) about the true nature and purpose of the first layer, and thus to fuel the perpetuation of unsustainable industry practices unto the point of industry collapse. Given the now inescapable lessons of the recent financial sector collapse, it would be nice if we didn't have to learn this particular one again the hard way.

—Tom Vest

On Paper

I just received the September issue (Volume 11, No. 3) of IPJ and wanted to make a quick comment about the paper change. Upon reading the section on the change I quickly dug up the previous copy of IPJ and compared the two. I personally like the new paper much better. The main reason I like it is because it is much easier on the eyes, I think mostly because it no longer has a glare from overhead lighting reflecting like the old paper type did. It's a welcomed change from my take.

—David Swafford,
Network Engineer for CareSource, Dayton, OH, US