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Is your ISP ready for IPv6?

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you'll no doubt be aware that the Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses. Exactly what this means will be covered in a later article, but for now, we're going to take a look into what ISPs around the world are doing to be ready for the switch-over to IPv6.

Whilst IPv4 isn't about to stop working suddenly in a few days once the IANA runs out of addresses to allocate to the RIRs (Regional Internet Registries), many businesses are already pushing their suppliers for IPv6 ready hardware and connectivity. In order for that to be worthwhile, ISPs need to start rolling out IPv6 to consumers, and pressure is already mounting for them to do so.

In researching this article, the top 10 ISPs (in terms of number of subscribers) in the UK and the US were contacted regarding their IPv6 plans, and the responses have been, in general, very positive.

Out of all 20 companies contacted, only two responded saying that IPv6 is already available to customers on their network. EntaNet, a UK based ISP, has been providing IPv6 connectivity to UK homes for a number of years, and has been actively encouraging its competition to do the same. 

Claranet, a large European ISP with presence in the UK was the first in the country to provide IPv6 service, having had it enabled for almost ten years.

Unfortunately, for other subscribers in the UK, the news is less positive. As of the time this article was written, no other UK ISPs have responded, and there is no sign on company websites of any news on IPv6 (please let us know if you have any information on this). While BT has been running internal trials, this doesn't yet appear to have been extended to the general public.

Over the pond in the US, most ISPs are well on their way in terms of planning and internal testing of IPv6, with Comcast and Verizon already rolling out consumer trials, but the majority are being cagey when it comes to releasing dates for a full-scale deployment. Companies such as Qwest and AT&T have been offering both dual-stack and native IPv6 access to governmental and business customers since last year.

As EntaNet pointed out, many ISPs have been using the lack of consumer demand as a reason to hold off on the capital investment required to upgrade their networks to support the new addressing protocol. Aside from the capital costs of upgrading their own infrastructure, another hurdle faced by ISPs that could be slowing adoption is the lack of IPv6 support in most home routers and/or modems.

Given that it is common practise these days for ISPs to provide a router to new customers, in order to enable access to IPv6, either these devices are going to need to receive a firmware upgrade, or be replaced. With the age of some devices still in use in homes, it is unlikely that upgrades will be release for the majority of them, so replacement is the likely course of action, and this will obviously come at a cost, either to the ISP, or more likely, to the consumer requesting the IPv6 service.

Clearly, ISPs are beginning to rally behind IPv6 and have brought in the expertise required to move forward with deploying the service to customers. It's just a question of time, a figure that none have been willing to share, but there have been many promises of announcements to come in the near future.

In the meantime, there are a number of transitional technologies in place for users who don't have native connectivity from their ISP, and these will be examined in detail in a forthcoming article.

Image Credit: ThinkBroadband

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