Test Driving a New Internet Starts Wednesday
Watch carefully when you turn on your computer tomorrow. If everything goes according to plan, you won’t notice a thing, even though large parts of the Internet will be going through a test run for its next stage: Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), a new system to ensure that the Web doesn’t run out of addresses.
On June 8, search and content giants including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! will make their websites available over the new system — while your hardware and browser need to be able to set up to view them as well, it’s effectively the largest test yet of the new set of standards.
“Content providers are really keen to make sure their services are available very widely for end-users and distributed globally,” Mat Ford, the Internet Society’s technology program manager told Real Time Brussels on the phone from Edinburgh. This is worth doing now, because “the consequence of IPv4 running out of address space, is that services become very brittle and hard to debug when things go wrong.”
The concept is explained in this article — put simply, it’s like when telephone companies run out of numbers and have to add an extra digit in order to extend the network. The Internet grew faster than anyone could have predicted and if the switchover isn’t made to IPv6, services will become increasingly disrupted as the system creaks under the weight of billions of new users from emerging countries joining the current masses online. That’s where the content providers come in, according to Mr. Ford.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation: For years you’d hear content providers saying there were no users with IPv6 access, while Internet service providers said, there’s no content. IpV6 Day is about trying to change that cycle: We’re going to kill the chicken and break the egg.”
How can the EU institutions facilitate this process? EU Commissioner for the digital agenda Neelie Kroes reiterated in a speech in Brussels on Tuesday her aim to get the entire continent watching Nyancat (or possibly doing something more productive) on the fastest Internet connection possible:
“Our ambition is to get Every European Digital. But Europe is lagging behind in broadband high-speed networks: in many cases European users do not see the advantage. They would be ready to pay a higher price, and thus make the business case for investors, if they saw that there is interesting content in the pipes.”
For Mr. Ford, the most important thing for IPv6 is encouraging national governments and the EU to make their services available over IPv6 and mandate the public sector to procure services over the new standard. “I don’t think it’s helpful to be too strong-handed with the private sector, the industry is working through this problem,” he adds.
For now, as a user, it’s just a question of avoiding millennium-bug style panic and hoping that service providers can iron out any glitches that do pop up on the big day. In the words of Google’s Official Blog:
“We hope that many other websites will join us in participating in World IPv6 Day. Changing the language spoken by every device on the Internet is a large task, but it’s essential to ensure the future of an open and robust Internet for decades to come.”
(If you’re wondering what happened to IPv5: Protocol number 5, according to Wikipedia, was used by the experimental Internet Stream Protocol, though it was never known as IPv5 and was a forerunner of Voice over IP technology such as Skype.)