China pushes for network upgrade blitz as IPv6 adoption slows

Almost 800 million use the protocol, with more to come as Wi-Fi mandate arrives order arrives to quit NAT

UPDATED China's adoption of IPv6 – a goal the government in Beijing has prioritized – appears to have slowed.

State-controlled media on Tuesday covered the proceedings of the third China IPv6 Innovation and Development Conference, at which officials revealed that as of May 2024 the Middle Kingdom was home to 794 million users of the protocol, and that 64.56 percent of mobile traffic – plus 21.21 percent of fixed network traffic – is carried on networks that employ it.

In July last year, the previous edition of the conference delivered news that 763 million active IPv6 users could be found as of May 2023 – up from the 697 million active users China's State Council counted as of July 2022.

Even accounting for the slightly longer reporting periods, it seems inescapable that adoption of IPv6 in the region has slowed.

The nation is, however, closing in on goals to achieve an IPv6 user population of 800 million by 2025, plus 70 percent of mobile traffic running over the protocol. A target to have 15 percent of fixed traffic on IPv6 has been met.

And last year Beijing issued an order that has mighty potential to accelerate IPv6: a requirement that all new Wi-Fi routers sold in China must be capable of running IPv6 and use it by default once powered on.

Over the next twelve months, Beijing will enact a plan to promote IPv6 in eight cities with a combined population of over 110 million. Consumers, government agencies, and datacenter operators across the metropoli – including Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzen – will take part in a "special action" to promote IPv6 adoption, in pursuit of short-term goals and China's aspiration to become the world's most prolific user of the protocol.

Analysis of IPv6 adoption trends suggests China is well short of that goal. Akamai measures IPv6 adoption and rates India, Malaysia, Germany, and France as the leaders, with China the 61st-ranked nation at 22.2 percent adoption. The Asia Pacific Network Information Centre rates India as the world's IPv6 leader with 79.85 percent of networks capable of handling the protocol, ahead of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, France, and Germany … with China at 36.71 percent.

Beijing sees networked technology as essential to its economic development, but China's IPv4 allocation covered just over 330 million addresses. That's around one address per 245 people – well below the ratio of people to IPv4 addresses enjoyed in other nations.

While workarounds like network address translation offer a way to connect many more devices to IPv4 networks, IPv6 includes features that improve network performance, manageability, and observability.

That last point matters in a surveillance state – especially one like China that closely polices its internet to detect and remove content the government deems inappropriate, and to identify the people who posted it. ®

Updated at 0030 UTC, July 11

After publication of this story, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology published a "Notice on Carrying out the Special Task of 'Network De-NAT'" that calls on Chinese entities to stop using network address translation under IPv4 and instead rebuild networks on IPv6.

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