Boost for move to new net addressing scheme

Image caption, Time is running out for the net's older addressing scheme

Efforts to shift the internet to a new addressing system have been boosted by US internet service provider Comcast.

The firm has begun switching some customers over to a system built around the net's new addressing scheme, called IP Version 6 (IPv6).

The change is needed because the older version has almost exhausted its pool of available addresses.

Some small UK ISPs have also begun putting domestic customers on a network that uses the new system.

Comcast is carrying out a trial in Pleasanton, California that will see some customers in the town being connected to a network built around IPv6. To do this they will need home hardware that can handle IPv6 and its forerunner- IPv4.

Everything connected to the internet needs an address so data is sent to the right place. From the earliest days of the net, addresses have been pulled from the IPv4 pool which has about four billion numbers available.

The rapid growth of the net is close to exhausting this pool. Overcoming the shortage involves shifting to IPv6 which has an almost unlimited pool of numbers to call on.

Despite the shortage, relatively few ISPs have swapped their users to a network built around IPv6.

In a blogpost explaining the move, Jason Livingood from Comcast said it had been carrying out technical trials of IPv6 for over a year.

He said Comcast had taken the step in a bid to overcome the "chicken and egg" situation of there not being much cheap IPv6 hardware available because IPv6 compliant websites and services were scant.

Hardware help

Adrian Kennard, director of UK ISP Andrews & Arnold (A&A), said a similar situation was hampering its efforts to put customers on an IPv6 network.

"This has been the problem all year," he said. "We have had terrible trouble getting sensibly priced broadband routers for customers."

In many cases, he said, the core chips inside routers can handle IPv6 but few of the big electronics firms were producing firmware that unlocked that capability.

It would not take much for them to start producing them in large numbers, he said.

"As soon as one router maker starts doing it the rest will have to follow," said Mr Kennard.

A&A started its push on IPv6 in June following IPv6 Day on which many of the web's big firms turned on and tested versions of their sites that sat on IPv6 addresses.

From June it has been giving the IPv6 routers free to customers despite their high price.

However, he said, A&A was just about to start field trials of hardware that was much cheaper but can handle IPv4, IPv6 and wi-fi. Internal tests were "promising", he said.

UK business ISP Timico has also begun putting customers on an IPv6 network.

Those domestic customers already using the IPv6 routers probably have no idea they are on the new network scheme, he said.

"If they go to Google, they go the IPv6 site and they do not know it," he said. "And that's just how it should be."

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