IPv6: growing steadily, but there's a long way to go!

After a difficult start and a slow take-off, we are now seeing steady growth in the amount of internet traffic handled using IPv6. In each of the last few years, the volume has been roughly double the year before. Numerous influential voices are backing IPv6, including major corporations such as Google and Facebook. And the Dutch government hasn't been dragging its heels either. It's set a good example by adding IPv6 to the 'Use or Explain' list and embedding the protocol in ICT policy. As a result, thanks to support from good ICT suppliers, the DigiD site and others are accessible using IPv6. We believe that every self-respecting internet company should be doing the same for its customers.

IPv6? What's that about again?

IPv6 was developed to supersede IPv4, the current protocol for internet addressing. A lot has already been written about IPv6. The rationale for the new protocol was simple: the internet was getting so big that there just weren't enough IPv4 addresses to give every connected device a unique ID. The shortage has been causing problems for a while. For so long, in fact, that a whole generation has grown up not knowing how the internet was actually meant to work. Because various successful but flawed technical workarounds have been devised, such as NAT, which allows several devices to share an IPv4 address. The workarounds have enabled to the world to stumble on with the old protocol for quite some time. However, even if every home has its own NAT device, we'll run out of IPv4 addresses in the end, possibly making it necessary to put whole streets or neighbourhoods behind 'carrier-grade' NAT devices (CGNATs). And that's certainly not going to make life easier.

Good news from RIPE74

The seventy-fourth RIPE meeting took place in week 19 (8-12 May). Good news about the growth of IPv6 was a recurrent feature of the meeting. For example, Rabobank made a presentation explaining how it had been offering its services via IPv6 since last year. That's quite something, because banks tend to be large, unwieldy organisations that need long lead times to implement technical changes. Yet Rabobank has successfully sorted out the business case and the technology. One of the drivers for the bank was a conviction that IPv6 is better for customer security than GNAT (a crude workaround that allows multiple households to use the same IPv4 address).

Millions of extra sites

Another compelling presentation was made by Cloudflare, a large internet company that enabled IPv6 for its customers without waiting to be asked. In rapid time, Cloudflare added millions to the number of websites accessible using IPv6. Including sites whose proprietors' own infrastructure didn't or couldn't support the modern protocol.

Belgium high in the world rankings

We came across plenty more examples of good practice at RIPE74. One being a major US telephone company, which made all its customers' phone accounts IPv6-only (with 464XLAT for IPv4 accessibility). And things are looking good for IPv6 in Belgium. The country's biggest ISPs made the new protocol available to customers, boosting IPv6 penetration to 53 per cent, one of the highest levels in the world.

Netherlands lags well behind

Despite all the encouraging news, IPv6 is available to an average of only 11 per cent of internet users. And progress towards higher penetration is very patchy around the world. The Netherlands is one of the countries that are lagging behind. Which is surprising, because the Netherlands has traditionally played a leading role in the internet's development. But the fact is that we've been left behind by our neighbours. 

Biggest ISPs in the Netherlands don't do IPv6

Naturally, SIDN switched to IPv6 some time ago. All our services can be accessed both using the old-fashioned IPv4 and using IPv6. Our policy certainly isn't unique here in the Netherlands. Various forward-looking Dutch ISPs offer IPv6 connectivity, but sadly there are many that provide little or no version 6 support. They include the country's two biggest ISPs: Ziggo and KPN. So the Netherlands still has a long way to go. Both end users (through the big local ISPs) and service providers, such as website proprietors, need to be connecting to the internet's IPv6 sector much more quickly.

Incentivising IPv6 adoption

With the aim of boosting IPv6 rollout in the Netherlands, we've devised a new incentive for our Registrar Scorecard (RSC) scheme. The RSC is designed to encourage registrars to help make the internet better and more secure. And it's working! The scheme has been very successful in accelerating the adoption of DNSSEC over the last few years. Registrars have started using the security protocol in large numbers since the incentive payments were introduced. As a result, millions of .nl domain names now enjoy DNSSEC protection. Wouldn't it be great if SIDN and the registrars could team up again to make just as many domain names reachable using IPv6?

The new IPv6 incentive is payable to registrars for domain names whose name servers and, where relevant, mail servers and/or web servers are reachable using IPv6. We'll be deploying special test tools developed by SIDN Labs to scan servers for version 6 support.

Check for yourself!

If you'd like to know whether your ISP supports IPv6, go to the test page on Internet.nl. If they don't, why not drop them a line or give them a call? Another utility on Internet.nl lets you enter a domain name to see whether it's reachable using IPv6. The utility will also show whether the IPv6 website linked to the name is the same as the IPv4 site, because many aren't.

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