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Internet lights up with new IPv6 connections

The next-generation Internet technology has been gradually arriving for years, but it takes a big step forward today with the World IPv6 Launch event.

Google.com now is available over IPv6, as shown by these green entries that the IPvFoo Chrome extension displays.
Google.com now is available over IPv6, as shown by these green entries that the IPvFoo Chrome extension displays.
screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The next-generation Internet technology called IPv6, vastly more accommodating than its predecessor, began arriving for a small but significant fraction of Internet users today.

Several technology powerhouses are trying to encourage adoption the IPv4 sequel through an Internet Society event called the World IPv6 Launch that began today. (Well, actually it started at 5 p.m. PT yesterday -- blame the time-zone complications of global events.)

But start it did. The organizers want to keep tabs on the IPv6 performance during this sensitive introductory phase, and their data shows the arrival of IPv6 connections.

I use the IPvFoo Chrome extension to keep an eye on IPv6 services -- something I can do since my ISP can use it. It showed Google and Facebook already offering IPv6 on major sites such as Bing.com, Google.com, Gmail.com, and YouTube.com. Earlier, I'd have to use IPv6-specific addresses such as http://ipv6.google.com/ to get IPv6 services.

Jason Fesler, Yahoo's IPv6 evangelist, estimated that for sites that offer content over IPv6, about half a percent of data will actually be delivered using it. But that should rapidly increase as the months go by: In a year, the fraction should be "in the realm of 10 to 15 percent."

The idea behind the IPv6 launch event is to encourage Internet service providers, Web site operators, and the general public to embrace IPv6. To try to get things rolling, IPv6 launch participants including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo started permanently sharing content from their main Web sites using IPv6, and companies like Comcast started connecting a fraction of their customers with IPv6.

IPv6, aka Internet Protocol version 6, provides vastly more network addresses than IPv4, which is running out of them. The IPv4 address exhaustion complicates matters for those who want to link new homes or smartphones to the Net, and it makes it harder to write peer-to-peer software like videoconferencing that benefits from linking two direct endpoints on the Net. Switching on IPv6 has been a slow, expensive process, especially when there wasn't much reason to do so until recently, but many Internet powers tried to jump-start the IPv6 movement today with the World IPv6 Launch.

It's working, by some accounts. An Australian ISP, Internode, exceeded its goal of making IPv6 available to 1 percent of its customers, instead reaching 2 percent.

Ordinary people who want IPv6 probably need to be patient. Many ISPs don't offer it yet as an option, and many Web sites still don't supply content using IPv6.

Still, those who want it can take some measures to be ready, such as running a version of Mac OS X 10.2 or later or Windows Vista or later. (Windows XP SP2 has support, but it's not necessarily enabled.) Another step is to have a newer home network router plugged into your broadband connection; as part of the IPv6 event, D-Link and Cisco's Linksys committed to ship routers with IPv6 enabled.

Most home network gear today can handle IPv6 through a firmware update, but some will require replacement, said Ovum network infrastructure analyst David Krozier.

A few people might have problems now that IPv6 is becoming more widely available, because misconfigured products can lead to some delays loading Web sites a computer might expect to find on IPv6. And Japan has an extra set of complications because of widespread use of IPv6 for some ISP-only services that lead a computer to think IPv6 is also available for the broader Internet.

To check if you have problems, there online sites such as Yahoo's IPv6 help site, the IPv6 readiness test site, and Google's IPv6 checker. Google and Yahoo offer advice if things are going wrong with IPv6

ISPs are moving in toward IPv6 at varying rates, Krozier said:

Verizon currently supports enterprise and government customers with native and tunneled IPv6 services. The Verizon LTE network is enabled for IPv6, and the company is testing IPv6 on its FiOS network. AT&T set a 2020 date for full IPv6 deployment and offers IPv6 commercial services on its U-verse network with 6rd tunnels. Comcast has turned up IPv6 services to more than 1 percent of its residential wireline subscribers, and Time Warner also offers IPv6 to residential subscribers. Around the globe, Internode (Australia) supports IPv6 services with a dual-stack network, and ISPs in Hong Kong as well as KDDI, XS4ALL, and Free Telecom are all offering IPv6 connectivity.

The World IPv6 Launch might look from the outside like a PR stunt designed to drum up enthusiasm for the new Internet technology, and there's an element of that to it. But given that real IPv6 services are now available from major sites, there's deeper substance, too. Ultimately, it's the arrival of that content and IPv6 abilities that will nudge those who haven't supported IPv6 to do so.