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A Data-Driven View of IPv6 Adoption

Here at Akamai we've been closely monitoring IPv6 traffic across our network for quite some time - including the months leading up to World IPv6 Launch all the way through to the present. In this post, I wanted to share some of the more meaningful IPv6 traffic data we've observed, both during the 24 hours of the World IPv6 Launch milestone and in the weeks since.
What we saw during World IPv6 Launch
World IPv6 Launch was an important milestone for IPv6 and for the Internet. Beyond providing a rallying point to encourage content providers, networks, and CPE vendors to permanently make production IPv6 services available, it also served to recognize the hard work of the many people and organizations who have committed to making IPv6 a reality over the past decade.  While there are still many years to go before IPv6 is the dominant Internet Protocol, IPv6 is now clearly here for real with no going back, and its adoption is only going to continue to grow.

Take a look at the infographic below that our graphic designers put together for a view into the specific IPv6 traffic numbers that we observed during the 24 hours of June 6, 2012 (the day of World IPv6 Launch, or "W6L").  Click on the infographic to view it full-size, or download it here as a PDF.

Infographic: What Akamai saw during World IPv6 Launch

Three drivers of IPv6 growth
The first thing that may jump out at you from the W6L statistics is the 460X increase in the number of IPv6 requests year-over-year against Akamai's network, as well as the 67X increase in observed IPv6 addresses. There are three main drivers contributing to this growth that will also continue to provide momentum for IPv6 adoption going forwards:
1) Content availability.  One major contributor to Akamai's increased IPv6 traffic has come from more of our customers opting in to have their sites, content, and applications permanently available "dual-stacked" (i.e., available over both IPv6 and IPv4) in the months leading up to World IPv6 Launch.
2) Availability of IPv6 from access network providers.  Over the past year, we've seen some of the largest growth coming from major ISPs within the U.S., as they roll out production IPv6 support to their end-users, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Comcast.  This is on top of some ISPs in Europe and Asia that have had IPv6 deployed in production for a few years, as well as a long tail of thousands of network providers, universities, and research labs around the globe.  More IPv6 growth will come as these networks extend their IPv6 deployments and as other networks join them.
3) End-user device support.  While most recent desktop and laptop operating systems and client software supports IPv6, many home routers and gateways didn't have support until very recently.  Many embedded devices and consumer electronics are also slow to gain IPv6 support, with the notable exception of many 4G LTE smart phones.  This has been one of the limiting factors to users whose network providers have rolled out IPv6 capabilities, and as users upgrade devices over the next few years, this should cause a significant increase in IPv6 usage.

What can content providers expect to see in terms of client adoption?
Content providers often wonder what they will see in terms of IPv6 traffic when they dual-stack a web site or some of their content.  A common measure here is the "IPv6 preference" (the percentage of overall requests being made over IPv6).  We've seen that this number can vary widely (anywhere from 0.5% to over 3% globally) based on the demographics of a site's user-base.  This is a result of the latter two factors above: sites will naturally see a higher IPv6 preference if they have more end-users with IPv6 connectivity from their network providers (such as with audiences in particular geographies) or with more device support.  For example, sites with a consumer end-user audience are likely to see IPv6 preference rates in the 0.5%-1.5% range, while high-tech sites (such as network equipment manufacturers) are likely to see IPv6 preference rates in the 2-3% range.  We've seen other sites (such as with user bases concentrated in networks or countries with higher IPv6 adoption) have even higher IPv6 preference rates.

Malware: the dark side of IPv6 adoption
Along with IPv6 adoption also comes clients infected with IPv6-capable malware.  Looking at one form of attack, we've seen that the geographic distribution of IPv6 attack sources resembles the global distribution of IPv6 addresses.  While not a reason to hold off on deploying IPv6, it is important to be aware and to take appropriate safeguards.
What we've seen since World IPv6 Launch
Since World IPv6 Launch, we've seen IPv6 adoption continue to steadily grow, likely due to growth in all three of these factors. The IPv6 preference rate for many dual-stacked sites has been steadily rising by a few percent week-over-week since World IPv6 Launch.  Some of this is a continuation of the very noticeable increase in IPv6 preference for U.S. end-users which has gone from 0.12% a year ago to over 1% today. We've also had more customers dual-stacking sites in the weeks following that milestone, including many U.S. Government agencies preparing for the September 30th mandate.  If these trends continue, it is likely that by 2020 we will still see significant use of IPv4, but IPv6 will represent a major portion of Internet traffic and growth.

Check out Akamai's IPv6 Data Visualization for real-time IPv6 traffic, regional breakdowns and historical comparisons, as well as our IPv6 whitepaper and previous posts on IPv6

Erik Nygren is Chief Architect at Akamai