IPv6 Adoption and the Chasm

In IPv6 Market Has Liftoff – Now the Hard Part Begins, Bruce Sinclair, CEO of gogo6, looks at some of the results presented on 31 July at IETF 84, which led to enthusiastic headlines about ‘skyrocketing’ IPv6. (Ahem. This blog forecast IPv6 Growth Goes Exponential on 26 July.)

Sinclair takes a valuable look at the results in the light of the technology adoption cycle, and asks “Does the ‘skyrocketing’ trajectory of IPv6 have enough momentum to cross the Chasm or will the market stall before the Early Majority, who have a very different makeup, take over?”

The technology adoption cycle goes via innovators to early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. If it is ‘continuous’ – that is, if it doesn’t force a significant change of behavior on the customer – then the cycle is smooth, without a chasm. If it is discontinuous, forcing disruptive change on the consumer, then a chasm occurs between early adopters and early majority, which may mean failure of the technology.

So is the IPv6 adoption cycle continuous (smooth) or discontinuous (a chasm)?
I suspect it  may depend what level of Internet technology you’re considering. Let’s take a simple, three-level split:

Top-tier carriers and ISPs: Continuous.
These are the 800-pound gorillas of the business, whose comprehension of global trends and business survival means IPv6 is just a blip in their normal equipment-renewal and staff-training cycles. IPv6 adoption should spread smoothly into the early majority at this level.

Mid to small ISPs: Discontinuous.
These are the nervous ring-tail lemurs – is IPv6 coming? Will we do it? What if customers don’t like it? No-one understands it. We’ll have to change equipment. We’ll have to send the techie (the only techie) for training. It’s too hard. It’s too ugly. But the big primates are doing it. What if we miss out? We can’t afford it … and so on. A few in this group are early adopters, but the rest are cowering at the sight of the chasm.

Home or business end-users: Continuous.
“What’s that?” you say. “Surely everyone knows end-users don’t want IPv6!” Yup. The same way they don’t want IPv4 – that is, they couldn’t give a flying ferret either way. It’s just the Internet – no disruptive change of behaviour required, and a smooth transition from early adopters to the early majority is quite possible.

Except that end-users have an obstacle – ISPs. They must depend on whatever protocol their ISP gives them, whatever modem their ISP recommends, whatever access devices their ISP supports. (Are we seeing a pattern here?) Apart from tunnel techniques, IPv6 adoption is not and never has been up to end-users. But they’ll take to IPv6, if their ISPs allow it, just the same way they took to IPv4.

Here’s proof – while less than 1% of the world uses IPv6, fully 9% (and rising) of Romanian Internet users are on IPv6, simply because that’s what the dominant ISP in the country provides. For the same reason, 4.5% of the French use IPv6 because major ISPs offer it.

So what happens if most mid-level ISPs keep on procrastinating about IPv6? I’ll get to that another day.

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