IPv6 for Consumers

Whenever a group of people talks about IPv6, eventually one of them says, "What we really need is a killer app, something that will get consumers to want IPv6." I disagree with this.

As a technology transition, if you're waiting for consumers to ask, you're doing it wrong. I've pointed out what I think are good reasons to adopt IPv6, including speed and cost. Expecting consumers to drive demand for IPv6 is akin to expecting them to drive demand for LTE, or digital television, or any other underlying protocol.

The success of a protocol is not what it does, but what it enables.

Consumer advocates may want any of those things, including IPv6, for what it enables for consumers. But consumers want fast, reliable, cheap Internet service, not fiber, proactive network monitoring, or IPv6, per se.

Sometimes somebody will suggest a consumer education campaign, or that IPv6 needs better marketing. The questions then are: "Why should consumers care about IPv6, and what do you want them to do about it?"

One reason why consumers would care is if there were content available over IPv6 that wasn't available over IPv4. Content providers are unanimous in being uninterested in reaching only 2% of Internet eyeballs (or even 10%). The Internet of Things, if it provides a compelling story, may be the killer app, the one that only works if IPv6 is in place. However, at 2013 levels, IoT innovators assume that IPv6 is not available, so they use IPv4 to establish outbound connections (rather than inbound to the device).

The other reasons consumers might care is if IPv6 is better, faster, or cheaper. There's no reason to believe that IPv6 is more reliable; that would be fascinating. IPv6 is apparently faster (according to multiple sources), but the reasons are not yet well understood and may be incidental. IPv6 will be cheaper, as CGN or the address market become the only alternatives, but until an ISP announces a pricing or product differentiation, it won't affect consumers.

If the performance bonus is borne out, and if pricing changes, then consumers would want IPv6. An awareness campaign would then have to tell them what to do about it.

  • Check whether their (DSL/Cable/FiOS) modem is IPv6-capable,
  • Check whether their router is IPv6 capable,
  • Replace all of their Windows XP boxes (they should do this anyway),
  • If they don't have IPv6, ask for it from their ISP,
  • Switch ISPs to one that has IPv6,
  • Complain to electronics manufacturers when IPv6 doesn't work,
  • Complain to web sites when IPv6 doesn't work.

The first two require a commitment from ISPs, to publish a list of modems and routers that are known to work with IPv6, and to replace (upon request) those that don't. The third is important to the Internet, and is already happening. The two about ISP support require that ISPs have IPv6 100% deployed; in most countries, even ISPs that have deployed IPv6 still have some places where they haven't finished yet. Motivating customers to do something, then making it impossible for them to do, will de-motivate them. The last two, complaining to those who don't have IPv6 support, would be great, but requires all of the previous ones to have been completed.

This is not to say that consumer advocates cannot move the needle on IPv6 deployment. Simply, a consumer education campaign in early 2014 is premature. Until all consumers can take action, and the actions they should take are clear and possible, consumer awareness would only cause fear and confusion. Until then, ISPs must continue their rollouts, content providers must dual-stack, and consumer electronics manufacturers must update their devices.

Once the Internet is ready for consumers, then we can ask consumers to close the gap.

Lee Howard
16 January 2014