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UPD UK ISPs Respond to Readiness Fears on World IPv6 Launch Day

Wednesday, Jun 6th, 2012 (1:07 am) - Score 7,223

Several of the United Kingdom’s largest consumer broadband ISPs have spoken to ISPreview.co.uk about the increasingly urgent issue of Internet Protocol v6 (IPv6) adoption and their current state of readiness for today’s World IPv6 Launch Day. So far none of the big home broadband ISPs have officially signed up to the initiative.

The 6th June event, which was setup by the independent Internet Society organisation and is supported by some big names (e.g. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Cisco etc.), is essentially designed to promote the adoption of IPv6 by network providers (ISPs), hardware manufacturers and website operators. Supporting organisations have pledged to enable IPv6 support permanently from 6th onwards.

Unfortunately the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 has been far from smooth and many significant problems remain, not least with the reluctance of most big broadband providers to adapt.

A Quick Recap

Any device that connects to the internet (e.g. home broadband router) is seamlessly assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address by a communications provider / ISP, which helps to identify your connection to other online services (e.g. websites, Skype etc.). Think of this as being a bit like a phone number for internet capable hardware and software, without which it would not be possible to communicate with other online computers, services or people.

Since its inception, in 1984, the internet has used the Internet Protocol v4 (IPv4) standard, which looks a little bit like this: (four number groupings). Unfortunately IPv4 is limited to approximately 4.5 billion addresses, which officially started to run out when the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) allocated its remaining address blocks to the worlds five Regional Internet Registry’s (RIR) in February 2011.

Shortly after that the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), which handles the distribution and registering of numeric internet addresses for most of the Asia Pacific region, became the first of the five RIR’s to run out of IPv4 addresses (here). The next RIR to hit troubled water is expected to be RIPE NCC, which covers Europe, UK, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia, and could run out of IPv4’s before the end of 2012 (estimates vary).

What is IPv6?

The Internet Protocol v6 (IPv6) standard was created in the late 1990’s to replace IPv4; its addresses are significantly longer (128bits), written in hexadecimal, separated by colons and more secure by design (IPSEC as standard). An IPv6 address, in its longest form, might look a little bit like this: 2001:cdba:0000:0000:0000:0000:2257:9652 (note: this can be reduced down to 2001:cdba::2257:9652).

As you can imagine this means that the total number of possible IPv6 addresses is rather significant, something in the order of 340 trillion trillion trillion, which should hopefully be more than enough to cope with the current explosion of internet capable devices (Tablets, Smartphones etc.). IPv6 also solves problems with NAT, which would normally make end-to-end integration difficult to achieve, and brings with it other improvements (e.g. better auto-configuration and multicast capabilities).

The Problem with IPv6

To cut a long story short, IPv4 and IPv6 aren’t compatible, at least not “directly“. In order to get around this problem ISPs have had to build dual stack systems that allow both setups to run side-by-side. On top of that most hardware and software developers are still playing catch-up, with many continuing to produce IPv4-only hardware and or failing to upgrade old kit; a somewhat chicken and the egg situation.

The issue of cost also plays a huge part in such development work and the lack of consumer affordable IPv6 routers is a serious consideration for any home broadband focused ISP (we note that Technicolor and Xoom have made big progress here). A number of the largest ISPs have also amassed a huge stock of IPv4 addresses, which will allow them to defer such upgrades until a much later date.

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

What do ISPs Say?

At the time of writing only two UK network operators have pledged direct support for this week’s big event, Janet and business focused ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), although a number of others (e.g. Fluidata and Entanet) already have IPv6 support installed. Indeed a lot of smaller providers seem to be making strong progress, but what about everybody else? ISPreview.co.uk asked most of the big ISPs and received a number of mixed responses.

ISPA Secretary General, Nicholas Lansman, said:

More ISPA members are now offering IPv6 due to the availability of reasonably priced routers that support both IPv4 and IPv6. The transition to IPv6 is one of many on-going improvements ISPs are making to their networks which includes investment ahead of the Olympics.”

A BT Spokesperson said:

BT has been planning for the introduction of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) for some time now. We already serve customers with IPv6 on our global internet backbone. We have a large IPv6 address block allocation and are planning to further enable the network with IPv6 capability during 2012 working alongside existing IPv4 (referred to as “dual stack”).

Current predictions are that no more IPv4 addresses will be available for allocation by Regional Internet Registries to ISPs and Network Operators sometime in 2012. Nothing will happen then, the internet will continue to work, and companies like BT will have a variety of strategies to cope with growth and the impacts of IPv4 address exhaustion. Techniques such as Carrier Grade Network Address Translation can be used to provide an increased IPv4 address capability, but the long term solution is IPv6. IPv6 won’t happen overnight – content on the internet will continue to be served using IPv4, and a lot of customer’s equipment will be IPv4. Gradually customer equipment and content will move to IPv6 but the transition may take a decade or more.

Much of BT’s 21CN equipment is already IPv6 ready. We just need to turn it on when the time is right; that is when there is clear customer and industry demand.”

BT also plans to facilitate preparation for World IPv6 Launch on June 6th through its BT Diamond IP initiative, which will offer a variety of free IPv6 educational resources via their new IPv6 Resource Center. The Resource Center appears to be a multimedia collection of white papers, webinars, videos, presentations, a podcast, IPv6 subnet calculator, and even “books by BT Diamond IP experts“.

Mark Nichols, Head of Marketing for BE Broadband, said:

While BE has access to sufficient IPv4 addresses to meet current and future business needs, we continue to work with our parent Telefonica O2 to ensure we can adopt IPv6 addressing when the time is right. During 2012 we’ll continue to look how best to do this, harnessing the benefits of the new addressing but without disrupting customers.”

An O2 Spokesperson added:

O2 Broadband has sufficient IPv4 addresses to meet business needs for the foreseeable future. We are working with our engineering team to ensure customers will be able to adopt IPv6 addressing when the time is right. This work will allow our customers to gain the benefits of IPv6 addressing including the use of any new IPv6-only services that become available while maintaining access to existing IPv4 services and giving an excellent overall Internet experience.”

A Sky Broadband (BSkyB) Spokesperson said:

Sky is preparing for IPv6 support and we will be monitoring the IPv6 launch with interest to ensure we can provide a seamless customer experience when we launch this to Sky customers.”

Andrew Saunders, Zen Internet’s Head of Product Management and Marketing, said:

Zen is going through a measured and carefully planned deployment of IPv6. We have been working with IPv6-compliant hardware and infrastructure for the last few years. With the future in mind, we’re going for what’s called a full dual-stack implementation, supporting IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time, so that customers will be able to access the sites and services they need both now and in the future.

However, this doesn’t mean that we will be switching to IPv6 overnight. While the work involved in preparing our core network is not an issue, moving our internal processes, our support tools, our business systems and our Web hosting control panels is no trivial feat. We could simply switch IPv6 on and tick a box, but we’d rather wait until we can surround it with the reliable services and support we know our customers expect. As ever, we’d rather work towards the best possible service, than opt for a quick and dirty fix right now.

We aim to keep all our customers fully informed of our progress with IPv6, but for the moment and the foreseeable future there is no action that our customers need to take.”

An Everything Everywhere (Orange UK and T-Mobile) Spokesperson said:

Everything Everywhere has been planning for the introduction of Internet Protocol Version6 (IPv6) and we are confident that the transition to IPv6 will be an easy and seamless process. We have an active programme in place which will help us to introduce IPv6 capability to our mobile customers, while still supporting IPv4 for those customers who use older devices.

For our Orange home broadband customers, we still have sufficient IPv4 capacity on our fixed line network and are working with our infrastructure provider [BT] to ensure a seamless transition when we do make the change to IPv6.”

An Entanet Spokesperson said:

We have discussed the industry’s slow adoption of IPv6 regularly on our opinion blog (http://opinion.enta.net) and have routinely encouraged our peers to respond more urgently to this essential requirement. For some time now Entanet has been completely IPv6 ready and has offered both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to our reseller and end user customers. Our channel partners can easily request IPv6 addresses for their broadband connections via our online partner interface, known as synergi or for leased line and Ethernet solutions simply request an IPv6 address via their account manager or the provisioning team. We would make IPv6 available by default but are still seeing regular cases where the customers hardware is not compatible with IPv6 and therefore provide our customers with a choice.”

Piers Daniell, MD of Fluidata, said:

We announced back in February that we’re supporting the World IPv6 day in June 2011, and we have, by default, enabled IPv6 for all new subscribers and currently enabling it for existing customers. All new customers will be assigned IPv6 addresses and routers as standard. This will happen automatically so customers will experience no change in service (or cost).

It’s going to be really interesting to see how companies and ISPs will work with IPv6 on a daily basis. Getting websites to be viewed over IPv4 and IPv6 is problematic for some, and a lot of companies don’t realise that their website will need to be seen by both for a time, so that means dual-stack is necessary. Also as there is still such a focus on IPv4 in the short to medium term, the value of businesses with large assignments will increase as it becomes harder to secure new blocks of IP addresses. We still don’t charge anything for IP addresses, in line with RIPE guidelines, as long as the IPs can be justified but it will be interesting if other companies decide to charge a premium for IPs.”

A Virgin Media Spokesperson said:

As part of our progress towards rolling out IPv6, we have upgraded our network to support IPv6 traffic and we’re currently assessing what changes may need to be made to fully support IPv6 in the home. In the meantime, we have enough IPv4 addresses in reserve to satisfy demand for the foreseeable future and we will be supporting IPv4/IPv6 in parallel until our full IPv6 service is complete.”

Andy Whale, KC’s Director of Engineering and Network Services, said:

We welcome the benefits IPv6 will deliver and are deploying and testing upgrades to our IPv6 capability. We’ll be carrying out a customer trial before launching it across our network infrastructure as IPv6 goes mainstream in 2013.”

Thanks to all of the providers above for kindly responding to our request (note: we also asked TalkTalk but they seemed unable to form a useful reply beyond telling us that IPv6 would be “phased” and nothing else). It’s good to see that most ISPs do at least have a constructive position on IPv6 adoption, even if some (e.g. Sky Broadband, TalkTalk etc.) still seem to be a little coy on the subject. The good news is, provided your ISP does its job properly, most consumers should be able to sit back and relax, at least for now.

For most people IP addresses are merely a seamless part of the connection, one that you will hardly ever have to come in contact with, and as a result the transition should be largely a matter for your ISP. But that’s assuming the migration goes smoothly.

Eventually, probably quite a few years down the road from now, IPv4 will have to be phased out completely and that’s usually when you find out just how many people still depend upon it.

UPDATE 12:31pm

F5 Networks, an apparently global leader in Application Delivery Networking, confirmed today that BT has implemented their BIG-IP® Local Traffic Manager™ (LTM®) solution to “allow complete translation between IPv4 and IPv6 addresses” in its existing network.

David Osborne, BT’s IPv6 Programme Director, explained:

We knew we needed to become more accessible to everyone using the Internet, whether they’re an IPv6 user or an IPv4 user, and the F5 solution has allowed us to do that without substantial re-engineering. BIG-IP LTM sits in front of the web servers and handles the IPv6 configuration. In addition, the F5 team was very responsive and was able to turn the project around in short order.”

Discussions between BT and F5 allegedly began at the start of 2012, with lab testing taking place just over two months ago, and the solution has now been implemented (BIG-IP LTM device) within “part” of BT’s live network for the past week.

John Gorbutt, Account Director of F5 Networks, added:

Our solutions make it easy for organisations to upgrade their infrastructure so that they have an IPv6 address in place. The BIG-IP platform was an ideal component of BT’s Dual Stack initiative, which aims to allow both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to run alongside each other.

The Dual Stack project is about readiness for the next generation of the Internet, part of which is being IPv6-ready. F5’s solution helps ensure that web users searching for BT.com on either IP address system will be able to reach us, without restriction.”

It should be stressed that this is not a complete transition to IPv6 for BT’s entire network but it is one useful step along the way.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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