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UK ISPs Lag Behind Europe in IPv6 Internet Address Standard Adoption

Saturday, May 5th, 2012 (8:32 am) - Score 1,206

The Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC), which handles the distribution and registering of numeric internet addresses for most of Europe’s broadband ISPs, has released a new table that shows the UK lagging behind the top 20 nations in terms of IPv6 adoption (just 17.3% of the country’s networks have been upgraded).

An Internet Protocol v4 (IPv4) address is assigned to your computer each time you go online (e.g. 85.23.56.198), which allows you to communicate with other computers, services and people around the world. Unfortunately IPv4 addresses have now almost completely run out and yet its replacement (IPv6), which has been around since 1996, still hasn’t been fully assimilated.

The worrying news comes just a month ahead of World IPv6 Launch Day (6th June 2012), which is the target that a mass of major network operators, router manufacturers and websites (e.g. Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc.) around the world have set for permanently enabling the IPv6 standard on their servers. At the time of writing the only UK ISP listed in support of the event itself was AAISP (Andrews & Arnold).

Top 20 IPv6 Nations by Network Readiness (BBC)
Norway – 49.3%
Netherlands – 43.8%
Malaysia – 37.1%
Japan – 32.5%
Sweden – 31.9%
Germany 30.9%
New Zealand – 29.7%
Belgium – 29.2%
Singapore – 29.1%
Ireland – 28.7%
Finland – 28%
Denmark – 27.7%
Austria – 27.3%
Switzerland – 26.7%
Portugal – 25.9%
France – 22.3%
Taiwan – 21.2%
Slovenia – 21.1%
Hong Kong 20.4%
South Africa – 20%

Crucially IPv4 and IPv6 are not “directly” compatible with each other, which is one of the reasons why adoption hasn’t been as easy as simply slotting in a bunch of new numbers. IPv6 addresses are significantly longer (128bits), written in hexadecimal / separated by colons, and more secure by design.

As a result ISPs have had to wait for network hardware and software developers to catch-up (even now there’s still a lack of consumer affordable IPv6 routers) and then any upgrade would naturally carry a cost; providers need to develop dual stack systems that allow IPv6 and IPv4 setups to run side-by-side.

Uptake of the IPv6 standard is clearly improving but we’re a long way from being ready, especially in the UK. In all likelihood RIPE NCC expects to issue its last “last /8 of IPv4 address space in the coming months“, which could cause problems for ISPs that don’t have plenty of spare IPv4 capacity like BT.

Providers that haven’t adopted IPv6, especially those that only have a tiny stock of IPv4’s, run the risk of being unable to connect new customers, at least not without resorting to problematic IP address sharing or other performance / security affecting methods. Some websites might eventually also become unreachable to IPv4-only connections

Meanwhile consumers should be able to just sit back and watch, at least for now; an IP address is merely a seamless part of their connection and ISPs will have little choice but to adopt a dual stack solution for many years to come. But eventually even consumers will need to buy IPv6 capable kit as IPv4’s will ultimately be phased (once they’re not needed, when everything is IPv6 ready, which could take a decade).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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