Feature: Are Australian ISPs ready for IPv6?

By on

Oh no. The Internet is running of addresses! What shall we do!? Is this the end of the world!? Calm down, it isn’t the end of the world, it just happens to be a technical inconvenience as we already have a solution to fix the very problem called IPv6. But there’s already another problem: it hasn’t been readily deployed.

As we face the last remaining blocks and addresses available on IPv4 – the current standard we use now – let us see if the ISPs are ready for the change that is about to come to the entire Internet.

What is IPv6 and IPv4?

IPv6 and IPv4 is how all computers and servers communicate via the Internet, hence why IP stands for “Internet Protocol”. While IPv6 was officially developed in 1998, it has taken us until 2009 to realise that we might need to switch from the current standard of IPv4, which has been in use since 1982 – and that is before what we call “The Internet” was actually in existence.

So why now? The big deal is the addresses. At its most basic level, IP addresses are allocated to every computer connected to the Internet (it gets trickier when we deal with networking equipment) and allows a packet of data – a piece of a file you want to get – to be sent. Think of it like a mailing address, where a letter must have a destination to send to – and computers usually refer IP addresses as the destination computers.

So what we have now is the fact that we are running out of addresses on IPv4. It should be noted that this is “unallocated” addresses – ones that have not been assigned to anyone or is being held by another company. IPv4 was designed to only have 4,294,967,296 (or 232 addresses) with each address being 32 bits. IPv6, however, has a much larger number able to hold 2128 addresses – or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses, with each address being 128 bits long. This means you will need to remember a new IP address.

IPv6 is, however, not backwards compatible with IPv4. Despite the fact that its just a new version of the Internet Protocol, the developers of the standards did not envision that it would be used for the entire network but only for network backbones. But in 1998, there wasn’t YouTube or Facebook – there was Netspace and AOL. Oh, and we were still on dial-up. Hence many carriers have opted to use a “Dual Stack” approach – meaning that they will have networking architecture to support both standards before they will phase out IPv4.

Are our ISPs ready?

So with the talk of ISPs should pick up the pace of bringing IPv6 to consumers as addresses are running out, lets see if any of our ISPs are ready for IPv6, or have plans to upgrade to the new standard. We sent emails to several ISPs – including BigPond and Optus.

Internode

Internode has been one of the biggest advocates for IPv6 and has deployed the protocol on its network alongside the current standard of IPv4 as a trial since 2009. All of its networks, both international and domestic, are connected up with IPv6, according to the ISP. Of course, this means you will need to buy new equipment in order to connect to IPv6, with the company selling IPv6-ready routers.

Oh, and for those fearing the end of the world, Internode has adequate “stocks” of IPv4 addresses based on projected customer demand for the next three years.

Telstra

A Telstra spokeswoman has confirmed that the telco will be implementing IPv6 across their networks.

iiNet

iiNet is, according to its spokesman, “well advanced in its planning for the transition to IPv6” and has confirmed that it will run a dual stack implementation on both IPv4 and IPv6, similar to Internode. The company will try to make sure the changeover is as seamless as possible for customers. No date has been scheduled when the company will implement this, but it should start sometime in this year.

Optus

An Optus spokesperson has said to us that they have identified the importance of such protocol ten years ago and has for a number of years conducted a detailed program for the development and integration of IPv6 across the network. It has already done end-to-end testing during 2009/10 for consumer, business and wholesale customers; and is working with vendors to provide IPv6-compatible routers and equipment for its network.

Primus Telecom

Primus Telecom’s Andrew Sims said in a statement to us that it has already have a test network in place in its Data Centre in Melbourne, and should be ready to implement full-scale support of the protocol within this year as it is nearing completion of its core network. The telco has also confirmed that it already have IPv6 peering arrangements with both Pipe Networks and Vocus Communications.

And the NBN?

The National Broadband Network is going to be support IPv6, with ISPs allowed to operate IPv6 services immediately. NBN Co has also confirmed that ISPs have requested that it offers “optional features on this broadband service that does involve some IP awareness by NBN Co.” Those features are expected to be completed by the end of 2011.

Update: Included responses from Optus and Primus Telecom – two companies who initially did not respond in time for publication.

Image: Collin Anderson/Flickr