By Chris Boyer, AT&T Assistant Vice President-Public Policy, and Brooks Fitzsimmons, AT&T Assistant Vice President-Project Program Management 

Every day there seems to be a new gadget or other device hitting the market.  Earlier this week, all eyes were on San Francisco to see the latest news coming from Apple’s WorldWide Developer Summit.  So, what does this have to do with IPv6?  Simply put, the explosive growth of the Internet driven by computers, smart phones, netbooks, tablets and the like, while bringing new innovation, is also creating a challenge for technologists – we are running out of IP addresses.

Currently, IP addresses fall under the IPv4 standard which has been in place since 1981.  However IPv4 lacks sufficient address space (4.3 billion) to keep up with the surging demand.  IPv6 is the successor technology to IPv4 and should be capable of supporting a virtually limitless number of devices.

Thus, today, the Internet Society (ISOC) is hosting World IPv6 day, which involves several organizations, including AT&T, offering content over IPv6 for a period of 24 hours as a sort of “test flight”.   The purpose is to encourage all industry stakeholders to adequately gear up for the actual transition to IPv6.

AT&T is participating in World IPv6 day both as a content provider ( and and as a provider of network and hosting services.  In those capacities, AT&T’s research labs will be monitoring the performance and reachability of the web sites and our backbone network and peering points.     

Policymakers in Washington have been paying close attention to the IPv6 transition for some time now.  The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) set a June 30, 2008 deadline for Federal agencies to support IPv6 in their backbone networks (which was met).   And Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is requiring Federal agencies to upgrade their public-facing Web sites and services to support IPv6 by September 30, 2012 and to upgrade applications that communicate with the public Internet to use native IPv6 by September 30, 2014.  Part of the goal of these deadlines is to spur private sector companies, which will be working with agencies to fulfill these dates, to adopt IPv6 on their end.

All members of the Internet ecosystem from Internet service providers, content providers, enterprise networks and applications, equipment vendors and others need to prepare for IPv6.  For its part, in addition to participating in tests such as World IPv6 Day, AT&T is making a substantial investment, comparable to our Y2K efforts, to upgrade our network and product lines to be IPv6-capable and have been planning for the transition since 2006.

Given the complexity AT&T expects IPv4-based networks to co-exist with IPv6 networks for quite some time.  Successfully managing this transition requires AT&T (and other companies) to employ multiple techniques to extend the life of existing technologies and minimize the impact to customers.  We have recently completed or are near completing several important milestones including:

  • Optimizing our IPv4 address inventory to extend their life until exhaust.
  • Offering dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 services (started in June 2009) including being IPv6 capable in the U.S. on AT&T Virtual Private Networking and Managed Internet Services (preparing our global network for these capabilities throughout 2011).
  • Enabling our IP backbone to support IPv6 over domestic peering links (planning for Most of World peering coming online in the near future)
  • Starting to provide access to IPv6 content from our websites in the 1st quarter of 2011 with field trials starting later this year.
  • Creating a formal governance structure and corporate program office to drive IPv6 assurance across the company with over 100 projects currently underway.
  • Expanding IPv6 to remote access, hosting, managed premises equipment, VOIP and other IP add-on services.
  • Ensuring that our network and IT infrastructure is IPv6 ready by providing interworking between pure IPv4 networks, dual stack IPv4/IPv6 networks and native IPv6 networks.

Our objective is to ensure that our customers will see no impact or loss of functionality.  Ultimately, we think IPv6 gives the industry greater room to grow, innovate and support new devices. We encourage device manufacturers and content providers to help drive adoption by developing for IPv6. And we continue to also urge businesses to be proactive and to begin the migration to IPv6.

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