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Brussels, 8 June 2011

Digital Agenda: Commission makes Europa website accessible for Internet Protocol version 6 users – Frequently Asked Questions

To mark World IPv6 Day on 8th June 2011, the European Commission has made its own website accessible by Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) users (as well as IPv4 users)(see IP/11/686). Due to increasing demand for new Internet services, the last remaining IPv4 address was assigned in February 2011. The uptake of IPv6 will make available a practically unlimited amount of Internet addresses to support the explosive growth of new services in the future. Many sectors, not yet present in the Internet, are preparing their move to it and will directly go to IPV6. IPv6 will therefore allow every citizen, network operator or organization to have as many IP addresses as they need to connect every conceivable device to the Internet: mobile phones, car navigation systems, home appliances (such as fridges, lamps, heating devices, plugs), industrial equipment, etc. Moving from IPv4 to IPv6 is therefore essential to let the internet evolve and create new applications and services.This MEMO explains what IPv6 is, why it is needed, how it is due to be deployed and the steps being taken by the Commission to encourage its deployment.

What is Internet Protocol (IP)?

All computers and electronic devices that connect to the Internet need an InternetProtocol (IP) address to identify themselves and communicate with other computers or devices. The first versions of the Internet Protocol appeared in the 1970s, but by 1984, Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) had become a global standard. However, the number of IP addresses available using IPv4, based on 32-bit addresses, is limited to around 4 billion, with most of them now attributed. The improved version that has been developed, IPv6, would overcome this problem and brings other advantages.

What does IPv6 provide?

  • a massive increase in address space – as it is based on 128 bit addresses, IPv6 allows for a virtually unlimited number of addresses – enough for every citizen, network operator or organisation to have as many IP addresses as they need to connect every conceivable device and network to the Internet

  • a basis for developing and deploying applications that may be too complicated or too costly in today’s crowded IPv4 environment

  • users with the possibility to have their own networks that can be connected directly to the Internet.

  • Network security is integrated in the design of IPv6. Compared to IPv4 which was designed without taking account of cyber security issues, IPv6 mandates automatic encryption services (this was optional in IPv4). This will ensure safer data communication exchange.

Why is IPv6 the key to the future internet?

Deployment of IPv6 will make it easier for companies to make new technological developments available to the public. Examples include:

  • auto-configuration, or easy "plug and play" networking of a large number of devices

  • peer-to-peer applications, including those involving Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and IP-TV, will be easier to implement and more powerful

  • IPv6 can be a key enabler for the introduction of new mobile/wireless applications and services that might be less feasible in a constrained IPv4 environment.

What needs to be done to deploy IPv6?

The migration to IPv6 is costly, but renewing IT equipment to make it IPv6 compatible could dramatically lower the cost. IPv4 and IPv6 will run in parallel until switch-over is complete. There are transition mechanisms in place (e.g. dual IP implementation, tunnelling) to enable IPv4 to be completely replaced by IPv6. The switch-over will not affect the content of IPv4, users should therefore not experience any major differences compared to IPv4. The European Commission aimed to make IPv6 available to 25% of European users by 2010 but only approximately 2% of all Internet traffic is IPv6 compatible today. Take-up has been slow so far. Deutsche Telekom already offers IPv6 compatible e-mail but trials by Vodafone in Portugal will run until 2012 for instance.

The Commission is calling for concerted action from all relevant parties to stimulate IPv6 accessibility.

Who does this involve?

Member States - Public authorities should enable IPv6 on public sector websites and for online public services and make IPv6 a condition for public procurement. The Commission invites Member States to support the inclusion of IPv6 in relevant training curricula and in engineering courses at universities. The Commission also intends to support public authorities' efforts to deploy IPv6 through a large pilot project involving Ministries, ISPs and content and service providers, as part of its Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP).

Internet content and service providers - Where applicable, Internet Service Providers should upgrade the equipment they supply to consumers.

Industry - businesses embracing IP technology in their core business should consider IPv6 as their primary platform for developing applications or appliances (such as sensors, cameras etc). The Commission supports the testing and validation of IPv6 related applications.

What is the European Commission doing?

For its part the European Commission has made the "Europa" website IPv6 accessible from 8 June 2011 and is encouraging research projects and practical deployment pilots funded by the Seventh Framework Programme Research and Technological Development (FP7). The Commission has already invested €100 million in IPv6 research, financing more than 30 European R&D projects directly related to IPv6 and to the deployment of IPv6 connectivity in GEANT, the European research network (which began running IPv6 in 2002).

Significant steps towards deploying IPv6 will help to remove obstacles that currently prevent the full deployment of wireless and mobile devices, provide better services for new apps and boost Europe's ICT market.. The Commission wants to ensure that users can connect to the internet using IPv6 as soon as possible to access more content and services without noticing a major difference compared to IPv4. The transition to IPv6 will still take some time and will require operating dual IPv4/IPv6 networks during the transition phase. The Commission will therefore carry on monitoring the situation regarding IPv4.

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