IPv6 solved the IP address exhaustion problem, but it wasn’t designed for the architectural changes brought on by 5G and cloud. The IPv6 Enhanced standard changes that and it’s already making a difference.
It’s been almost 25 years since IPv6 arrived on the internet scene as a draft standard from the Internet Engineering Task Force with the aim of ensuring that the internet would have enough IP addresses to meet demand as more people (and “things”) became connected.
But adoption took a long time, and IPv6 wasn’t adopted as an official internet standard until 2017. Now, IPv6 faces new challenges as the internet itself undergoes architectural changes from the rollout out 5G services, the growing adoption of cloud and the emergence of the digital economy. Consequently, IPv6 is already evolving with the times with IPv6 Enhanced (IPE), which provides differentiated service capabilities to implement high-speed, efficient, flexible, and intelligent next-generation internet connectivity, thus meeting industry interconnection requirements in the digital era.
That was the overall message from an IPv6 Summit hosted by Informa Tech on the sidelines of the MPLS, SD & AI Net World Congress 2022 in Paris, France on April 4. The summit’s title – “IPv6 Enhanced, Boosting the Digital Economy” – almost says it all: in essence, speakers said, IPv6 Enhanced will unleash the potential of connectivity and accelerate the development of the global digital economy. And adoption has already begun.
Why we need IPv6 Enhanced
The original mandate of IPv6 was to solve the problem of IP address exhaustion. IPv4 supports only 4.3 billion IP addresses – with a population of over 7 billion people and an estimated 12.3 billion IoT devices connected in 2021 alone (and almost 31 billion device connections projected by 2025), IPv6 has been essential to making sure the internet can keep up with demand.
However, said Sameer Ashfaq Malik, senior principal analyst from Omdia, “Address exhaustion is not the only issue. The trillion-dollar B2B vertical industry market now needs full connectivity. IPv6 Enhanced provides differentiated service capabilities to implement high-speed, efficient, flexible, and intelligent next-generation Internet, meeting industry interconnection requirements in the digital era.”
Essentially, the challenge is that IPv6, like IPv4 before it, is still a best-effort protocol, and internet connectivity needs are already evolving past that. The world is moving to an era of software-defined cloud-native networks with differentiated services, network slicing and ultra-low latencies, and IPv6 isn’t really designed to support the connectivity requirements in this scenario.
“5G changes the attributes of connections [via network slicing and deterministic networking], and cloud changes their scope, which means you need a faster, cheaper and more flexible way to set up cross-domain IP connections,” explained Li Zhenbin, Huawei Chief IP Standard Representative and IETF IAB member.
IPv6 Enhanced addresses this with additions such as SRv6 to support segment routing, and AI to enable intelligent O&M, which allows for faster provisioning, faster fault location and hidden risk detection, Li said.
SRv6 (i.e. segment routing + IPv6) is a next-generation IP transport protocol that utilizes existing IPv6 forwarding technology to implements network programming through flexible IPv6 extension headers.
“SRv6 simplifies network protocol types, features good extensibility and programmability, meets diversified requirements of more new services, provides high reliability, and is especially suited to scenarios such as cross-domain interconnection, large-scale networking, service cloudification, and cloud-network synergy,” Li said.
Latif Ladid, Chairman of the ETSI IPE Alliance, added that SRv6, as the core of IPv6 Enhanced, “propels IPv6 innovations to new heights and can fully unleash the potential of connectivity.”
Meanwhile, network test center EANTC has been testing SRv6 interoperability in telecom operator use cases, including enterprise and cloud data center services and 5G x-haul networks”, covering VPN and VPWS over SRv6 for vendors to ensure seamless services, said EANTC managing director and co-founder Carsten Rossenhovel.
EANTC validations also extend to various functions for deployment, including SRv6 and MPLS network interworking (to address the legacy network migration challenge), high availability of SRv6 networks with TI-LFA, SRv6 FlexAlgo defined constraint-based routing for 5G and other advanced use cases, Rossenhovel added.
Rossenhovel noted further that multiple vendors, including Cisco, Huawei, Juniper, and Nokia, have been participating in the tests, and that vendor support for SRv6 is growing. “SRv6 is ready for prime time,” he said.
The ETSI IPE Alliance defined IPv6 Enhanced in 2020, and issued a report in 2021 that explores the value of IPv6 Enhanced in various scenarios, such as 5G, cloud, and data centers. The report proposed IPv6 Enhanced innovations covering six dimensions: ultra-high bandwidth, ubiquitous connectivity, automation, low latency, deterministic quality, and security.
Li added that while IPv6 Enhanced is already standardized, work is continuing to add even more capabilities to the protocol as networks continue to evolve.
“We can divide the development of IPv6 Enhanced standards into three phases: 1.0 focusing on basic SRv6 capabilities, 2.0 focusing on 5G/cloud-oriented new network services, and 3.0 focusing on the APN [application-aware networking] architecture.”
Li noted that IPv6 Enhanced and its touted benefits aren’t theoretical. “IPv6 Enhanced technologies, such as SRv6 and IP network slicing, have been deployed and applied on more than 100 sites worldwide, significantly enhancing the differentiated service capabilities of networks.”
Interestingly, IPv6 Enhanced is arriving at a time when IPv6 in general still hasn’t been ubiquitously adopted – at least, not among enterprises.
Jean-Charles Bisecco, an IPv6 Task Force expert from ARCEP, explained that IPv6 is seeing widespread adoption around the world, and that in France alone, by 2024 more than two in three terminals will use IPv6, as will more than 90% of operator fixed networks. That’s why the most pressing task for ARCEP’s IPv6 Task Force is to encourage enterprises to migrate to IPv6. During his presentation, Bisecco announced the release of a new document from ARCEP aimed at helping enterprise IT teams understand their IPv6 requirements and plan and deploy IPv6 accordingly.
Several operators made appearances at the summit to share their progress with IPv6 and plans for IPv6 Enhanced.
Francois Bouju, IP backbone network architect of Bouygues Telecom, said the telco has witnessed rapid IPv6 development in recent years, with its fixed networks due to be IPv6-only networks in two years, and its mobile networks following suit in the future.
Carlo Richartz, Fixed Network Director of Post Luxembourg, said that Post is committed to IPv6 Enhanced innovation and practice and aims to build a network based on IPv6/SRv6 by 2027. “[The network] deploys 400GE network interfaces to meet service growth needs, and uses new technologies such as SRv6, slicing, and IFIT to guarantee the SLAs of B2B services. It also simplifies protocols and introduces AI to reduce opex.”
Calvin Govender, general manager of Fixed Line Technology Services at South Africa’s MTN, shared his experience in IPv6 Enhanced-based intelligent cloud-network construction.
“MTN has built the world’s first IPv6 Enhanced-based intelligent cloud-network using the CAASI framework, enabling the network to access multiple clouds over one connection and provide one-stop services and deterministic service quality. This lays a solid foundation for MTN’s cloud service development in South Africa.”