by Mike Jude, Program Manager, Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan
Editor's note: While most network operators look at the IPv4-to-IPv6 migration as a necessary upgrade that has nothing to do with consumers, a few unnamed carriers hope they can pass on IPv6 upgrade costs to customers -- either as a special IPv6 service offering or by adding fees onto existing services. Business customers feel differently about IPv6, and several cable operators offer IPv6 addresses to them for a premium. But the basic question is whether there is any consumer revenue to mine from IPv6. Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan program manager Mike Jude looks at the contributing factors in this guest commentary.
As recent SearchTelecom.com articles illustrate, implementing IPv6
In addition to installing a router fabric that can understand IPv6 addressing, operators have to ensure that there is a market for IPv6 services -- and that's going to be a challenge. Let's look at why.
IPv4 is ubiquitous, and to use the overused Monty Python-ism, isn't quite dead yet. In fact, all of the hyperbole associated with IPv4 address exhaustion misses the mark by ignoring the fact that there are quite a few unused IPv4 addresses still available. Many network operators acquired massive blocks of addresses years ago and routinely reuse addresses as websites and subscribers come and go.
Also, many private networks use network address translation (NAT) on the interface between their networks and the public Internet. This allows them to dynamically use one address to support many users.
The reality of IPv4 address exhaustion
What is running out are large contiguous blocks of addresses (the so-called /8 blocks) that enable efficient address resolution. So as IPv4 address blocks become fragmented with reuse over time, IPv4 will impose unacceptably higher overheads on routing infrastructures. It is this gradual fragmentation, more than simple IPv4 address exhaustion, which is likely to drive IPv6 adoption.
In the meantime, the IPv4-based Internet is alive and well and continues to deliver interesting content and places to go for the average consumer. So far, consumers have been able to get to what they want using IPv4. The question for operators is: Do consumers want or need IPv6 services to get to content they can't access now? At least for now, the answer is no.
Consumers just say no to paying for IPv6 addresses
Stratecast has surveyed consumers to gauge their willingness to adopt new technology and has found that they are essentially technology-agnostic. That is, they are focused more on the services they can consume rather than the technology used to deliver those services. In fact, when we used their responses to bias a Monte Carlo simulation (a computerized mathematical technique that provides a range of possible outcomes and the probabilities that they will occur), we found that just under 90% of existing consumers would not pay to get IPv6 service if no new services were introduced to go with the access.
In practice, this means that in order to get consumers to pay for IPv6-based service, carriers need to think in terms of new services that would be available only through IPv6 addresses. At least so far, killer IPv6 applications have not emerged. And if the migration to IPv6 denies consumers access to services they already use, IPv6 is going to be very unpopular.
So, at least from a consumer perspective, there is currently no virtue in converting to IPv6, nor is there likely to be much demand for access. In fact, the most compelling reason for a consumer to move to IPv6 would be if that person's work required it. If enterprises decided to convert internal networks to IPv6 and then insisted that remote workers accessed those networks through IPv6-enabled connections, there would be a compelling reason for many consumers to request such connectivity. Currently, though, that doesn't seem to be happening.
Thoughts or comments on consumers and IPv6 services? Email us and let us know.
About the author: Mike Jude is a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan in charge of the consumer communication services practice. He brings 30 years of experience in technology management in manufacturing, wide-area network design, intellectual property management and public policy. Jude holds degrees in electrical engineering and engineering management and a Ph.D. in decision analysis. He is co-author of The Case for Virtual Business Processes: Reduce Costs, Improve Efficiencies and Focus on Your Core Business, Cisco Press, 2003.
This was first published in August 2010