Mixed Messages on IPv6

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is an international engineering organization. It has a unit, IEEE-USA, which was formed in 1973 to support the public policy interests of IEEE members in the US. It is respected on Capitol Hill, which sometimes turns to IEEE-USA for input on technology policy matters. That’s fine, if the input is sound.

One problem is that participation in IEEE-USA tends to be dominated by those not in industry, such as government employees, consultants, and academics. This can sometimes result in unbalanced policy positions that are unfavorable to industry.

Take the transition to IPv6. Most of the networking industry agrees that IPv6 is the future. We’re running out of IPv4 addresses. There is no panic, but organizations should be planning for the transition. These notions are generally supported by Google, Cisco, Scott Bradner, and many others.

In its August 2009 White Paper on IPv4 address exhaustion, however, IEEE-USA says that it “discusses IPv6 only as an example replacement. This paper is not intended to exclusively endorse IPv6 as the sole replacement structure and strategy for IPv4. Indeed, the lack of adoption for IPv6, which is an aging alternative, may indicate that preventing premature IPv4 exhaustion is another viable strategy.”

It’s a significant backpedaling from the industry position, plus a dig at IPv6 for having been around a while. This is supported by the dues of industry’s IEEE US members. Industry can lobby government on IPv6, but when a staffer looks up the IEEE-USA view, some of that effort is wasted.

IEEE-USA positions are largely driven by volunteer input. If industry volunteers don’t participate, industry’s view will be inadequately reflected. If a few networking companies could participate more actively in IEEE-USA, it would help tighten up these positions and help the group be a better force all of IEEE’s US members.