IPv6 is top of mind this week, as today is World IPv6 Launch day, so we figured it was a good time to connect with Dr. Shin Miyakawa, Director of the IPv6 Team at NTT Communications. Few people in the world have as much IPv6 experience as Miyakawa, who was on the front lines in the 1990s, working with Steve Deering, a former technical leader at Cisco who was lead designer of the IPv6 protocol.

Asked why NTT Com was so interested in IPv6 at such an early stage, Miyakawa says there were two main reasons. First, as early as 1995 the company could see the IPv4 address shortage coming – and figured it would hit Asia-Pac countries hard. Organizations in the U.S. had a big head start in terms of snapping up IPv4 addresses, he notes.

“MIT had a larger address space than all of China,” he says. Commercial Internet service started in Japan around 1992 – about 2 years after the first U.S. service – and ISPs didn’t ramp up in the country till about 1995 or ’96.

The other reason was that, with some 100 years of experience in telecommunications, NTT knew big changes don’t happen overnight. “We knew it would take 10 years or so to create a brand new service based on this brand new protocol,” Miyakawa says. “We had to develop well-defined manuals, training and also make sure the entire system is completely compatible with IPv6.”

Asked why he thinks IPv6 is taking so long to catch on among enterprise users, Miyakawa draws an analogy to when NTT faced a similar issue with respect to telephone numbers in the Tokyo area some 20 or 30 years ago. Similar to IPv4 addresses today, NTT was running out of phone numbers to use so had to increase its dialing scheme for the Tokyo area from 9 digits to 10.

“NTT asked every person and every office in Tokyo to change their telephone number to keep telephone service going. Nobody complained,” he said. The reason? They didn’t want to lose telephone service.

But a similar situation doesn’t yet exist with respect to Internet service. The idea that shortages are coming “cannot succeed in convincing enterprises yet,” he says, because there are ways to stretch the existing IPv4 address space (including buying unused IPv4 addresses, as we reported previously).

NTT Com figures a gradual migration to IPv6 makes more sense, and events like World IPv6 Launch Day help to further that migration.

Network Address Translation (NAT) is one such method that enterprises have been using for years. Now some carriers are getting into the game, with Carrier-grade NAT (CGN).  As the name implies, CGN is address translation performed in the carrier network that enable a small number of IPv4 addresses to be shared by many end user devices.

While that may seem like a panacea, Miyakawa doesn’t see it as a good proposition for carriers from a business perspective for at least a couple of reasons. One is the security issue inherent with many users sharing a single address, as is the case with CGN.

“Think about if an online bank identifies an attack from an IPv4 address. They stop access from that address then get calls from hundreds of people who can’t use the banking system – because their neighbor attacked the bank,” he says.

Another problem with CGN is that it takes expensive, carrier-grade equipment to implement, with far more intelligence on top than enterprise-level NAT gear requires. But carriers can’t charge more for the service because, if anything, they’re delivering a lesser-quality experience, as the security issue above illustrates. “If we decide to put CGN into our network, there is no hope to cover the cost, both capex and opex,” Miyakawa says.

NTT Com figures a gradual migration to IPv6 makes more sense, and events like World IPv6 Launch Day help to further that migration. It is still fundamentally a chicken and egg problem, however, but Miyakawa has a definitive answer to that age-old riddle.

“The egg must be first. I can prove that,” he says. If you think about Charles Darwin’s theories about evolution, the first chicken egg was produced not by what we now think of as a chicken, but by a close relative. “So if the first chicken egg was born from non-chicken parents and grew into the first chicken, then the egg must be first.”

In the case of IPv6, “carriers and content providers are the eggs,” he says. From them, with the help of the coordinated effort that events like World IPv6 Launch Day provide, IPv6 will flourish. But as with any evolution, it’ll take time.

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