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ISP Sky Broadband Prepares First UK Customer Trials of IPv6

Friday, April 10th, 2015 (8:48 am) - Score 7,505

The past couple of years have seen all of the major consumer broadband ISPs in the United Kingdom remain fairly silent on the impending need to support the “new” IPv6 Internet addressing standard. But now one of the biggest providers, Sky Broadband, is finally preparing to take the matter seriously by initiating its first customer trials.

As a quick recap, any device that connects to the Internet is seamlessly assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address by a communications provider (ISP), which helps to identify your connection to other online services (websites, Skype etc.). It’s kind of like the Internet equivalent of a phone number, without which most online services would not be able to communicate with you.

At present all of the major broadband ISPs still assign such addresses using the old Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) standard (related addresses look a bit like this: 84.123.12.5), but only a couple of years ago you couldn’t escape the news of how the IPv4 standard was running out of addresses and this would eventually make it impossible for ISPs to add new customers without upgrading to IPv6 (related addresses look a bit like this: 2001:cdba::2257:9652).

However most of the major UK ISPs have a significant stockpile of spare IPv4s and so the need to rush towards adoption was reduced, which meant the story went cold. But the need to adopt IPv6, while also maintaining support for the old IPv4 standard through dual-stack networks (otherwise IPv4 and IPv6 are not directly compatible), remains inevitable because sooner or later those spare IPv4s will be completely depleted.

In the meantime some ISPs, such as BT and its sibling PlusNet, have played around with interim solutions like IPv4 Internet address sharing (Carrier Grade NAT) in order to make the remaining supply last as long as possible. However CGNAT can cause problems for some online service (e.g. multiplayer games) and Internet systems that use unique IP addresses to identify, process and or block user activity.

Sky’s IPv6 Trial

Back in 2012 a spokesperson for Sky Broadband told ISPreview.co.uk, in reaction to wider concerns about the depletion of IPv4 addresses, that they were, “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.”

Flash forward three years and Sky Broadband are about to take a big leap forward by calling upon customers, specifically those on its standard Unlimited or Lite packages and who currently use one of their Sagem routers, to participate in an “exciting” new mystery trial. At least it was a mystery until we did some digging.

A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk today:

Sky is preparing for IPv6 support which includes readying our network, systems and our broadband hardware to provide customers with a seamless experience.”

On the surface this statement doesn’t give much away and so far Sky has only tested IPv6 connectivity as part of some limited closed staff trials. The step being alluded to above is thus the formal launch of their first IPv6 customer trials, which we understand will be expanded over the course of the coming months.

Sky suggests that they see the deployment of IPv6 as a critical step in meeting the Internet’s growing needs and the aim of this trial is thus to test an upgrade that makes the move from IPv4 to IPv6 as seamless as possible, which suggests the same sort of dual-stack networking that many smaller ISPs have already adopted (some providers, such as AAISP, have been using IPv6 for considerably longer than most).

Back in 2010-2013 one of the biggest issues facing the move to IPv6 wasn’t merely to do with a lack of ISP support. Indeed a lot of consumer broadband routers and software also lacked support, which presented more of a problem for the providers (chicken and the egg). Since then this situation has improved and now many new routers and software ship with IPv6 support as standard.

At this stage though it’s still too early to say precisely how Sky will proceed beyond its trial period, although we’ll be keeping a close eye on developments to see what happens. Sooner or later the other big providers will also need to follow suit and conduct wider customer trials of IPv6, which incidentally can handle 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses and so we’re unlikely to run out of them anytime soon.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar Karen

    Haven’t PlusNet had an IPv6 trial going for quite a while now as well as dabbling with CGNAT? That trial doesn’t appear to have moved forward very quickly. Perhaps when one releases, the others will follow quickly.

    • Avatar Bob2002

      >Perhaps when one releases, the others will follow quickly.

      Definitely looks like we’ll have a domino effect, none of the larger ISPs seem to be in a rush to go first.

  2. Avatar kds

    I think this is to introduce CGNAT with ipv6 , they will issue a NAtted iPv4 with ipv6. guess sky is running out of ip and if they did CGNAT with out ipv6 every one will scream,

    any way this is good about time we start using IPv6

    • Avatar John

      I am prepared to accept a CGNAT’ed IPv4, on the condition that I also receive IPv6 on dual stack.

  3. Avatar mtc

    Looking at sky’s update, they don’t seem to have cottoned on that a significant usecase for ipv6 will be inbound connections to consumer homes for controlling things like cameras, heating systems etc. CGNAT makes these more complex than they need to be.

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