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Safeguarding the Internet’s future growth

2012 will see the world run out of IP addresses. The current standard (IPv4) is now on the verge of full depletion, and in the near future devices will only be able to connect to the Internet using the new standard (IPv6).

To get the lowdown on what this will mean for all those businesses who have placed the Internet at their core, we spoke to Axel Pawlik, managing director of the RIPE NCC, an independent, not-for-profit membership organisation that supports the infrastructure of the Internet through technical coordination in its service region.

What does RIPE NCC do?

The most prominent activity of the RIPE NCC is to act as the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) providing global Internet resources and related services (IPv4 addresses, IPv6 addresses and AS Number resources) to members in the RIPE NCC service region.

The membership consists mainly of Internet Service Providers, telecommunication organisations and large corporations located in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. The RIPE NCC also provides services for the benefit of the Internet community at large.

IPv6 appears to impact directly on the growing number of connected devices, so presumably that affects everyone from ISPs to CE manufacturers and content owners who want people to be able to view their content on connected devices. What is at the heart of the IPv6 issue?

Yes that is right, IPv4 and IPv6 affect everyone connected to the Internet.

At the heart of the issue is that IPv4 addresses are depleting rapidly – APNIC, the regional Internet registry for Asia pacific handed their last IPv4 addresses out in April last year.

In the RIPE NCC region, the last batch of addresses is expected to be assigned by mid-2012. Device manufacturers, ISPs and consumers need to enable IPv6 capabilities to ensure they are built for the future Internet.

Taking a step back, how did the situation come about in the first place?

Every device that connects to the Internet requires a unique identifier, known as an IP address, and the current standard of IP addresses is called IPv4.

Many years ago it became apparent that IPv4 address resource pool – 4.2 billion addresses – would run out and so a new standard called IPv6 was introduced in 1999.

The introduction of IPv6 -  340 trillion, trillion, trillion (3.4×1038 ) addresses – meant a safeguarding of the potential growth of the Internet, making sure that all future devices would be able to be assigned an IP address.

Last year, it was announced that the global pool of IPv4 addresses is about to run out. With IPv4 on the verge of full depletion, we are now heading to a point where only IPv6 addresses will be available to allow a connection to the Internet.

Is there a way of adapting IPv4 so it would continue to provide enough addresses for Internet connected devices? Why is there a need for an IPv6?

No, IPv4 addresses aren’t adaptable. The protocol was not designed with the future in mind – the developers of IPv4 could not envisage the surge in the number of Internet connected devices we have today.

IPv4 and IPv6 protocols themselves are not compatible with each other. This means devices or networks only running IPv4 cannot communicate with devices or networks only running IPv6.

What does this IP incompatibility mean for OTT TV providers, networks and importantly the consumer?

As we reach IPv4 exhaustion and the world migrates to IPv6, new IPv6 only Smart TVs will come into the market. Due to the incompatibility, OTT providers still running IPv4 only networks/services will not be able to see or connect to these new devices. So there’s a real danger of fragmenting the Internet in parts, which of course is not the idea of an open Internet and would have a great impact of service delivery.

All networks, including those in the home, will need upgrading in order to support IPv6 enabled devices due to a lot of legacy networking equipment not being designed with IPv6 in mind. If action is not taken to adopt IPv6, in years to come consumers could be at the receiving end of expensive network complexities as network providers will inevitably relay the cost of connecting new devices back to the user.

So what does this mean for say Smart TVs that are not IPv6 ready? Can we assume they cannot receive content via IPv6 enabled sources?

In principle, that is right. Content delivered to Smart TVs from IPv6 enabled providers will not be accessible – in essence leaving the consumer in the receiving end with a blank screen.

What does the industry have to do then? What will content providers and device manufacturers have to do to alleviate this issue?

The key to a timely and seamless adoption of IPv6 lies in successful planning, with evaluation starting at the core of the infrastructure and leading all the way through to the network edge. By examining the operational chain it is possible to identify at which levels IP protocol is involved. By also evaluating equipment compatibility now, the upgrade process can begin without delay, helping ensure the compatibility of the supply chain.

Ultimately, the longer a business waits to adopt IPv6, the more expensive it will be. Poor planning and last-minute deployment has never been beneficial to an organisation, its operations or its relationships with stakeholders. Additionally, it’s likely to send deployment costs through the roof. If they haven’t already, businesses need to develop a comprehensive deployment plan now.

If content providers want consumers to be able to stream video content to their TVs and connected devices and cant, what impact will this have on content providers?

The obvious and immediate affect will be revenue loss for operators. In the long run, revenue loss could be accompanied by a slump in subscribers. Content providers could also look to other IPv6 ready operators to distribute content. By not adopting IPv6, the negative implications, and cost, outweigh the initial costs to upgrade to IPv6.

Finally, when will we need to be IPv6 ready by?

Operators, networks, ISPs and consumers need to be IPv6 ready as soon as possible.

On 6th June 2012, World IPv6 Launch will take place. Major Internet service providers (ISPs), home networking equipment manufacturers, and web companies around the world will be come together to permanently enable IPv6 for their products and services. So hopefully this will be the moment the world takes note to implement IPv6.

IPv6ActNow is a good resource to help all with IPv6 adoption and the state of IPv4 depletion.

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