IPv6 Is Launched: Yawn, Stretch


In case you missed it, last Wednesday (June 6) was World IPv6 Launch Day. The fact that it was pretty much a non-event was simultaneously manna and anticlimactic to the men and women who spent the last several years working on it.Why? When you get the bad guy before the bad guy gets you, the taste of success is … nuanced, at best.

In this case, of course, the “bad guy” is the nearing and very real exhaustion of the pool of Internet-protocol addresses used by our computers, tablets, “connected” devices and phones to get to the Internet. The existing pool, based on a numbering schema known as IPv4, is like water in the American West: It’s surely running out, but no one really knows exactly when.

Luckily for us, this is not news to the forefathers of the Internet, who realized as far back as the early ’90s that the way they’d numbered the things that need a connection wasn’t a big enough way of numbering. Those of us who grew up using smaller telephone numbers than now will get this immediately. Back then, it was enough to know a single seven-digit home number (348-9619!); now, I need several 10-digit numbers.

Just as there exists a community of people around the technologies of ad sales, DOCSIS modems, cellular backhaul and on and on, there exists a community of very bright network engineers who spent the last fi ve or more years making sure the rest of us can still get connected after the address pool depletes.

After the launch of IPv6 last week, this community seemed to be in limbo. More than one related disappointment at the volume (or lack thereof, to be precise) of IPv6-plumbed devices that identified themselves to the Big Internet as such. “Supersmooth, super-boring,” grumbled one v6 engineer. “I was hoping for a bigger party.”

What happened? Some bandwidth-watchers, like Sandvine, noted the surge in v6 traffic going to and from Netflix and YouTube; others, like the MSOs who turned up IPv6 in their networks, noted YouTube as last year’s biggest v6 gainer and Facebook as this year’s.

Missing from the party, so far, are consumerelectronics manufacturers - as a rule of thumb, your smartphone, laptop and PC are more likely to be plumbed with an IPv6 address than your connected TV, game console or Wi-Fi router. (Learning this through discussions with Best Buy employees is all the more entertaining. “What’s an IPv6?”)

Plus, some Internet things - browsers, like Apple’s Safari, come to mind - default to IPv4, as a vestige of the oddly named “Happy Eyeballs” algorithm, which aimed to keep bits moving (and therefore any connected clients “happy”). In essence, if IPv6 got gunked up anywhere, the algorithm defaulted back to IPv4.

Note: Just because World IPv6 Launch day happened, doesn’t mean the work is done. What happens now? For operators, upgrades to IPv6 will continue, followed by upgrading firmware in cable modems, gateways and related in-home gear.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at translation-please.com or multichannel.com/blog.