Migration is inevitable due to rapid growth of Internet

The world will soon have a new Internet. Each device connected to the World Wide Web is identified through a unique number, similar to a phone number, called the Internet Protocol (IP) address. A 32-bit identifier, the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), has been in use since 1981. Now, the numbers are running out.

On February 1, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority assigned the last batch of IPv4 addresses. Most countries are now gearing to shift to the next generation of IP.

IPv6 is a 128-bit protocol, offering a vastly expanded address space. The shift to a new version is akin to Indian telephone operators converting their landline numbering scheme from 6 digits to 8 digits so as to accommodate more subscribers. This shift, which is inevitable due to the rapid growth of the Internet, will require both hardware as well as a software upgrade. For example, a typical IPv6 address would look like this: 3ffe:0501:0008:0000:0260:-97ff:fe40:efab. Such an address will require eight slots, whereas most devices and associated software that exist today have only four slots.

“The existing pool of IP addresses allocated to the Asia Pacific region will run out some time in 2012,” says S. Kusumba, a former executive council member of the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, which is the Regional Internet Registry for the Asia Pacific region. However, unlike countries like Japan that have made 75 per cent of their networks IPv6-ready, the situation in India is quite alarming.

“Only five to six per cent of networks in India have deployed IPv6-compatible equipment. Network elements such as routers, switches and servers must be upgraded immediately to be able to communicate with IPv6 networks or else the inter-web will become fragmented. Indian Internet users would just not be able to access some portions of the Internet,” Mr.Kusumba says.

He says the residential user need not panic as their Operating System (OS) will definitely be IPv6-compatible, and they will be alerted by their Internet Service Provider (ISP) if a modem upgrade is required. “Corporates and medium enterprises will face a major challenge as they must also start installing translation engines to achieve inter-operability between IPv4 and IPv6.”

Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, says the government has prepared a road map to make all networks IPv6-compatible, “but it will have to start by putting official websites, banks and railway booking sites on the IPv6 network.”

As part of the road map, a National Internet Registry will soon be set up. Mr. Chharia claims ISPs have not migrated their customers “owing to the absence of content.” “Also, we cannot just scrap all IPv4 equipment. Migration requires some investment, and it can only be done by the government.”

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