by on January 26, 2008 · 8 comments

Over at Techdirt, I question whether the long-predicted IPv6 transition will ever actually occur:

A few weeks ago, David Siegel of Global Crossing looked at some high-profile websites and found that none of them have made the switch to IPv6, the supposed replacement for today’s 32-bit Internet addressing scheme. The IPv6 protocols have been finalized for a decade, and major operating systems have supported it for several years, so one would expect Internet-savvy companies like Google and Microsoft to have started running IPv6 versions of their sites. But it appears that so far, nothing of the sort has happened. Indeed, progress toward an IPv6-based Internet appears to be at a virtual standstill. The situation becomes less mysterious when one realizes that the primary rationale for the switch to IPv6 — the exhaustion of the IP address space — is basically bogus. It’s true that if Internet governance authorities continue handing out IP addresses, they’ll eventually run out. But the best solution to this isn’t necessarily a massively disruptive transition to a totally new addressing scheme. It may very well be a lot cheaper to continue working within the constraints of the existing address space. Technologies like NAT allow many users to share a single IP address. And Internet governance bodies can facilitate the creation of a robust market for unused IP addresses, so that those who need additional IP addresses can easily purchase them from someone who has more than they need. For example, Apple, Ford, General Electric, and several other Fortune 500 companies currently control blocks of 16 million IP addresses each. These companies should be given a straightforward way to auction off the unused portions of their blocks for the use of other Internet firms. There would be plenty of IP addresses to go around if firms had a financial incentive to give up unused addresses.

I got a lot of pushback from Techdirt readers, but I’m still not convinced. They pointed out lots of reasons that IPv6 is better than IPv4, which I’m sure it is. But path dependence is a real phenomenon. And none of the reasons they offered (easier routing, not needing NAT, better security) strike me as compelling enough that the median ISP will find it worth the trouble to make the switch. I think everyone may wait for everyone else to go first, and as a result, the transition will never actually happen.

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