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With World IPv6 Launch, IPv6 on by default will be the new normal


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Some "technologies of the future" stubbornly remain in the future and resist becoming technologies of the present. Case in point: fusion energy. For a long time, IPv6 seemed to fall into that category. But now, could it finally be for real? Anyone who missed the memo: current IP addresses are 32 bits long and are running out. IPv6 fixes this with addresses that are 128 bits long. But this only works when you actually run IPv6. Last year, some big players did exactly that for one day as a test. This year, the idea is to leave it on.

I'm at the 83rd IETF meeting in Paris this week (the same Internet Engineering Task Force that created IPv6 in the first place in the 1990s). I went to my first IETF meeting in 2002. Back then there was a lot of IPv6 work going on, although there was plenty of IPv6 skepticism heard in the hallways. A decade later, IPv6 is a given. Only when I try to check Dutch news sites to see if we still have a government do I notice that I'm on the IPv6-only WiFi network. All the IETF-related pages and tools are available over IPv6 as a matter of course. That isn't to say no IPv6-related work is going on, but that work happens in maintenance and operations working groups. In fact, the IETF leadership is now thinking about chartering a "v4exit" working group to focus on an orderly shutdown of the old IPv4 protocol.

In the meantime, World IPv6 Launch looms large. It's coming to a worldwide computer network near you on June 6. Last year, Akamai was one of the prominent participants in World IPv6 Day, which failed to kill the Internet last year. There was some more work to be done, however. Akamai explained to Network World that, as of April, the content delivery network is finally ready for IPv6.

Cisco and the Internet Society (ISOC) used the Paris meeting for a near-impromptu lunch get-together, talking about what some of the big World IPv6 Launch participants are doing. ISOC's Phil Roberts, moderator of the panel, kicked things off by saying that "IPv6 'on by default' is the new normal."

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IPv6 World Launch Day panel

In response to questions from the audience, Time Warner Cable and Comcast representatives talked about what the new normal means to them. As part of World IPv6 Launch, they've committed to have one percent of their customers using IPv6 by June 6. But as 30 percent of their consumers use Windows XP (which doesn't have IPv6 enabled out of the box) and 70 percent have a non-IPv6-capable home router, they need to enable IPv6 on a rather significant number of subscriber connections to hit that seemingly unambitious one percent. New Comcast and Time Warner Cable users—and also many existing users—will gain IPv6 connectivity over the next three months, and more after that. However, different cities will get it at different times.

So far, Comcast has provided IPv6 connectivity only to Windows Vista/7 and OS X 10.7 users who connect their computer directly to a DOCSIS 3 cable modem. But they're now also going to delegate an entire range of IPv6 addresses to IPv6-capable home routers, which can then hand out these addresses on their LAN ports and over Wi-Fi. And IPv6-support is even coming to selected DOCSIS 2 modems. Both cable operators will be giving out /64 prefixes, which is the size used on a single subnet. In other words: you can't daisy chain home routers or have separate IPv6 home and office networks separated by a router or firewall. The rationale for this decision is that some home routers may be confused by a larger address block, and current ones have no use for such a bigger block, anyway. But bigger address blocks may be given out at some point in the future.

Speaking of home routers, Cisco, the new home of Linksys, has a lineup of routers that have IPv6 enabled by default. The same is true for D-Link. These IPv6-enabled home routers are set up to request a range of addresses on their WAN side and redistribute those on the LAN side. This way, IPv6-capable systems automatically get both IPv4 and IPv6, while everything else continues to use IPv4 as usual.

Last year, most of the focus of the World IPv6 Day 24-hour trial run was on big websites. These are again joining the party this year, but they won't remove their server's IPv6 addresses from the DNS again after the 24 hours is up. Google's Lorenzo Colitti is looking forward to welcoming that one percent of IPv6 users from the participating ISPs on the Google servers. He stressed that publishing IPv6 addresses in the DNS permanently this year is only realistically possible after World IPv6 Day. It showed that it was possible to enable IPv6 for the whole Internet without significant impact.

So even though ISOC has yet to get any mobile networks on board, as of early June, network operators should expect a significant increase in IPv6 traffic. And that will be just the beginning. It's the new normal, after all. Here at Ars we're going to prepare for World IPv6 Day with an article explaining how you can enable IPv6 in your own (home) network. If you have any questions about that, let us know in the comments.

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