IPv6 deployment has been a topic of discussion amongst network engineers for many years. Although first standardized in the late 1990s, we didn’t start to see really significant levels of deployment pick up until 2012, helped in part by World IPv6 Launch. Depletion of IPv4 address space was and remains a significant driver for IPv6 deployment projects.
Today, depending on which network one is looking at, deployment levels are now anywhere between non-existent and close to 100 percent. For example, mobile wireless networks in the US have collective IPv6 deployment levels in excess of 80 percent. Internet connections between smartphones on these networks and popular online content platforms like Facebook and YouTube are all carried over IPv6 today.
Deployment is patchy though. There is no commonality when considering large regions like Western Europe or South America. Germany has over 40 percent deployment, whereas Spain is hovering around two percent. Brazil is close to 30 percent deployment while Chile, Colombia and Paraguay have almost no deployment to speak of. Similarly, while Facebook and Google have long provided IPv6 support, some other major online presences, such as Twitter and Amazon, do not offer connectivity via IPv6 yet.
These stark divisions between countries and networks are leading some commentators to posit a bifurcation of the global Internet into disconnected islands. Some even go so far as to suggest this is strengthening or supporting the desire of some state actors to create national internets disconnected from the content and communications of the global Internet.
However, it is a mistake to conflate the existence and ongoing deployment of IPv6 with economic and political isolationism.
China’s deployment of the Great Firewall (and other similar efforts in other countries) has nothing to do with the underlying connection mechanisms. The effort there is to isolate networks inside the country from content on the global, public Internet for reasons of political and social control. Such efforts would work whether the underlying technology were IPv4, IPv6 or carrier pigeons (see RFC 1149).
There is no deadline for IPv6 deployment – transition will take as long as it takes and will be driven by market forces. Those market forces are clearly stronger for some network operators and more pervasive in some countries than in others. That is not surprising. Not sharing in a globally connected internet is a choice that has nothing to do with the technological underpinnings of the network. Those underpinnings have worked and continue to work through voluntary collaboration and the voluntary adoption of openly specified standards from the IETF.
The Internet emerges from the voluntary interconnection of many thousands of autonomous, independent networks. These networks are free to make their own decisions about how and when to deploy and offer IPv6 services to their subscribers. It is therefore quite predictable that we would see a very diverse and patchy IPv6 deployment landscape as individual network operators make decisions on their own timescales and according to their own needs.
People see value in the global connectedness that the internet offers. That is why careful engineers have made IPv4 and IPv6 interoperable, even though they are not backwards compatible by design. Because of this, a mobile phone user in India (which has an IPv6 deployment of over 50 percent by some measures) can seamlessly connect to a web server in Brazil, the Netherlands, or Kenya.
IPv6-only networks that do not have any capability to connect to legacy IPv4-based networks and hosts are almost unheard of outside of research labs. Connectivity is the driver for internet adoption and users, developers and service providers of all kinds put so much value on that unhindered global marketplace that IPv6 deployment is occurring hand-in-hand with tools and technologies enabling seamless interoperability with the legacy network. Political moves to isolate countries from the global network will not find any support from the evolving deployment of IPv6.
For a simple analogy, consider the plumbing system. While most users don’t know or care if it’s made of ceramic, plastic or lead pipes — it just works and they reap the benefits.
If we collectively stop perceiving the value of global connectedness, the lack of IPv6 deployment in some networks, countries and regions will be the least of our problems.