Growth of IPv6 puts pressure on government to support next-gen Internet

As U.S. carriers make strides adopting IPv6, pressure is mounting for federal agencies to support the next-generation Internet Protocol on their public-facing websites and cloud-based citizen and business service portals. 

Federal agencies were supposed to upgrade their websites to support IPv6 by September 2012. However, the latest data from the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicates that less than half of federal domains have enabled IPv6 on their Web, DNS and mail servers. 

The latest data on U.S. citizens and businesses, on the other hand, show that an increasing number of have access to IPv6 in their homes and offices. That’s because U.S. carriers such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Time Warner Cable are aggressively deploying IPv6. 

But a few snags remain: IPv6 users can face slower performance than they are accustomed to — sometimes caused by issues related to network address translations. One user found that a connection to the IRS website was only 61 percent effective over IPv6. Use cases like that put agencies under pressure to not only support IPv6 on their websites but to provide comparable performance via IPv4.

Comcast is now the world’s largest native IPv6 deployment, according to statistics gathered by the Internet Society (ISOC).

More than 25 percent of Comcast’s Xfinity Internet customers are using broadband Internet service with native "dual-stack" support for both IPv6 and IPv4, the original version of the Internet Protocol. Comcast said it has deployed native IPv6 support to more than 75 percent of its broadband network nationwide and that it will reach the 100 percent mark in early 2014.

"Between August and the end of October, our IPv6 traffic growth skyrocketed us from third to first place globally on ISOC’s measurements," said John Brzozowski, fellow and chief IPv6 architect at Comcast. "During that timeframe, we launched IPv6 support for the Arris wireless gateway modem, which enabled support for 4 million more devices on our network."

Popular websites such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and Yahoo are all IPv6 enabled, as are citizen-facing Web portals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Postal Service and the Executive Office of the President — and NIST reports that 542 U.S. government domains have IPv6 operational Web service. 

Nonetheless, carriers say that more websites need to support IPv6 — and do so with high performance — in order for the Internet to keep growing to support more users and the avalanche of mobile devices. 

"There’s not enough IPv6-enabled content," Brzozowski said. "We need to see an increase in IPv6 deployment from the content delivery networks, the Web hosting companies and in the consumer electronic space." 

All of the IPv6 deployment efforts by the U.S. government are "greatly appreciated," Brzozowski added. "But we still need [content delivery networks] like Akamai to turn IPv6 on by default. We need the CDNs and the hosting companies that support the federal government to get IPv6 enabled by default." 

IPv6 is the biggest upgrade in the Internet’s 40-year history. Carriers, hosting companies and websites need to deploy IPv6 because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the current standard, known as IPv4. For example, the North American Internet registry is expected to run out of IPv4 addresses in February 2015. 

IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices. 

About the Author

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisc., covering enterprise technology.


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