Why Are Some ISPs So Slow to Adopt IPv6?

Since 1998 the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has developed a method for us to overcome some of the limitations of our current IP infrastructure. Known as Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), it’s corrected some of the issues that were plaguing IPv4 (the predecessor) and extended the addressing space to accommodate the myriad of new devices that are connecting to the Internet. Still, there are many ISPs that have either not switched over to IPv6 or have only partially made the implementation. What’s the holdup? Should you be worried?

IPv4 allows just over 4 billion addresses to be allocated worldwide. Each address has four numbers, each ranging from zero to 255. (Basically, it’s a series of four unsigned bytes, for the geeks out there.) Considering there are 7 billion people on the planet, and many people in the developed world are starting to own multiple IP addresses (not to mention the insane amount of addresses that some companies own), it was about time we upgraded to something that gave us a little bit of elbow room. IPv6 does just this and also improves upon the way that packets are routed. This new version of the Internet protocol begins to look like a more feasible option for the modern Web, especially when the “Internet of things” is starting to make a footprint.


If you have a strong power of deduction, you may have guessed that the reason why ISPs aren’t so quick to adopt IPv6 has a lot to do with balance sheets. Replacing the millions upon millions of routers that “run” the Internet is not only a time-consuming process; it also takes a great amount of capital investment to achieve such a thing. Until it’s absolutely necessary, an ISP will take its sweet time making the transition. Some ISPs, like BT, have taken the initiative early to stay ahead of the curb and pull the band-aid now rather than later. Still, it takes almost a year for BT to upgrade its infrastructure. Then there are other ISPs who are playing it safe, doing smaller-scale trial runs before dipping their feet further into the project.

In smaller, emerging countries such as Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria, the incentive to use IPv6 just isn’t there. The countries have an abundance of IPs left in their respective ranges, and their ISPs don’t feel the strain that those in much larger countries (in terms of electronic devices connected to the Internet per capita) do. This is because there is still a culture in these countries of keeping a router-centric online entity within each household and workplace. This means that one router will handle all of the connections coming in and out of the place, and the NAT will force all of the devices connected to it to share the same IP address.

This may sound familiar to some of you living in developed, metropolitan nations because you folks still depend on routers for the most part. The difference is that most people in these nations also have a dedicated mobile Internet connection for their phones/tablets. And a lot of the corporate world in countries like the U.S. uses sensor technologies that connect to 3G/4G networks. This kind of interconnectivity through dedicated lines makes it very difficult to handle the strain of all the connected devices at the ISP level.


ISPs often ask themselves this question. Let’s say that you’re the fat cat running Comcast. What incentive do you have to switch to IPv6 when almost no one else has taken the plunge? You see, on IPv6 you still have an IPv4 address to communicate with other IPv4 endpoints. If all endpoints (even the IPv6 ones) are still using IPv4 anyway, why make the switch at all? Why invest all that capital?!

No, there’s really nothing to worry about. Just because your ISP is slow to adopt doesn’t mean that they’re not monitoring the situation closely. ISPs still look out for themselves. And in doing so, they’re indirectly looking out for you. When push starts coming to shove, under the sheer strain of all the devices connecting to their networks, ISPs will begin investing in IPv6 architectures. Address space will start running out, and you can bet your service provider will be savvy to the situation, making the necessary investments ahead of the “big drop” that would come if IPv4 addresses would no longer suffice.

What do you think? Should we be pushing ISPs to adopt IPv6, or is the market sufficiently intelligent to make the decision on its own? Tell us in a comment!