Operators to test IPv6 as rollout moves slowly forward

To see if the industry is ready, several hundred websites will turn on the protocol during World IPv6 Day

As the number of available IPv4 addresses dwindle, operators are getting ready to ramp up the roll-out of IPv6 and World IPv6 Day, on Wednesday, will help the industry root out any problems.

The need for more IP addresses, which IPv6 makes possible thanks to its longer address field, has reached a pivotal point this year. IANA's (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) central pool of IPv4 addresses ran out in the beginning of the year. The last remaining IPv4 addresses are now in the hands of regional Internet registries such as the RIPE Network Control Centre, the American Registry for Internet Numbers and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, which in April said it only had a few left.

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Just a few weeks before IANA handed out its last addresses, the plan for World IPv6 Day was announced. More than 400 organizations, including YouTube and Facebook, will activate IPv6 on an even larger number websites during 24 hours to test the protocol. The goal is two-fold: to help accelerate the momentum of IPv6 deployment and figure out any possible technical issues that have to be resolved before IPv6 can be widely deployed.

Two possible areas for concern are end-user equipment and software and operational support systems used by operators, the latter because some of those systems have been designed for the shorter IPv4 addresses. But there are ways to get around that, according to Ericsson.

For IPv6 to work, all aspects of what makes it possible to connect to the Internet have to be compatible. But in the end, operators have to turn it on in their mobile and fixed networks, and they are planning to introduce IPv6 in the next couple of years and use it alongside IPv4.

For example, AT&T is already offering an IPv6 VPN and a managed Internet service, and will in the fourth quarter expand its IPv6 enterprise offerings to include managed security, managed hosting and managed enterprise CPE offerings, according to Brooks Fitzsimmons, assistant vice president, IPv6 Transition, at the U.S operator. AT&T will then support IPv6 on its consumer services, including U-Verse and DSL, in the first quarter of next year, he said.

A challenge for AT&T and other carriers is that IPv6 is harder to implement in some networks than others because some networks are more mature than others, according to Fitzsimmons. There is no "one-size-fits-all" process for upgrading a given carrier infrastructure to support IPv6, he said.

Vodafone is currently testing IPv6 on its Portuguese network. Trials are planned to finish at the end of its 2012 fiscal year on March 31. After that Vodafone will progressively implement the protocol over a three-year period in all countries where it operates, a spokesman said via e-mail.

Deutsche Telekom is already offering IPv6 compatible e-mail, authorization and Web hosting services. The German operator's access network will start using IPv6 at the beginning of next year. Before that it will conduct a field trial, which is scheduled to start in November, a spokesman said via email. When the access network is compatible, new users will get two addresses, one IPv4 and one IPv6, and then decide which one they want to use.

The availability of IPv4 addresses in different parts of the world will determine the pace of IPv6's rollout, according to Christian Jacquenet, head of France Télécom's IPv6 program. For example, Poland will start using the protocol as soon as next year, because that is what the IPv4 address depletion forecast calls for. At the other end of the spectrum, France won't start using it until the first half of 2014, Jacquenet said. The size of the French market also means it is going to take longer to deploy IPv6.

The operator is also conducting a number of field trials in Africa, said Jacquenet.

The introduction of IPv6 will act as a business catalyst in mobile data services and machine-to-machine communications, due to the almost unlimited availability of addresses and self-configuration capabilities, according to operators.

(IDG News Senior U.S. correspondent Stephen Lawson in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

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