Robert Cannon, Senior Counsel for Internet Law, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis at the FCC released a paper at the end of the year entitled Potential Impacts on Communications from IPv4 Exhaustion & IPv6 Transition (PDF). This realistic (and somewhat depressing) analysis outlines the challenges involved in migrating from our current Internet Protocol (version 4) addressing scheme–which brings connectivity of new devices to the edge of the cliff, having run out of new assignable numbers–to a native IP version 6 (IPv6) network. Cannon points out that:
Broadband Internet access has become essential to the United States and the rest of the world. The exhaustion of IPv4 addresses and the transition to IPv6 could result in significant, but not insurmountable, problems for broadband Internet services. In the short term, to permit the network to continue to grow, engineers have developed a series of kludges. These kludges include more efficient use of the IPv4 address resource, conservation, and the sharing of IPv4 addresses through the use of Network Address Translation (NAT). While these provide partial mitigation for IPv4 exhaustion, they are not a long-term solution, increase network costs, and merely postpone some of the consequences of address exhaustion without solving the underlying problem. Some of these fixes break end-to-end connectivity, impairing innovation and hampering applications, degrading network performance, and resulting in an inferior version of the Internet. These kludges require capital investment and ongoing operational costs by network service providers, diverting investment from other business objectives. Network operators will be confronted with increased costs to offer potentially inferior service.
Cannon notes that “there is not enough time to completely migrate the entire public Internet to “native IPv6.” We’ve seen this coming for a while, but the looming problems have not spurred the necessary work and investments by all concerned. Connectivity is likely to be increasingly bumpy and indirect for the next few years, as some of the many policy issues that Cannon describes are slowly worked out and translated across the network’s many and diverse interests and devices.