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European Commission


Brussels, 6 June 2012

Digital Agenda: Next Generation Internet Protocol takes off

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is formally launched worldwide today, coexisting alongside Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4). Deploying IPv6 is a key action under the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200). This is because unless the existing Internet infrastructure is upgraded to IPv6, the Internet would slow down as a result of its own success, which would in turn lead to fewer possibilities to drive innovation in the field of new Internet services and applications.

The Internet Protocol is the key by which data is addressed and routed in small packets across networks. This protocol makes Internet and World Wide Web browsing a relatively seamless experience. The final IPv4 addresses allocated to Europe (out of a total of 4.3 billion globally) will be handed out this month. Therefore updating the protocol is essential to ensure there are enough internet addresses for all the computers, mobiles and other devices people need to connect to Internet, and to ensure higher levels of security. IPv6 makes available a practically unlimited number of addresses (340 trillions of trillions of trillions).

IPv6 offers many technical advantages such as the simplified deployment of IP security, standard routing, and the plug & play capability. However, according to the IPv6 indicator in the Digital Agenda Scoreboard, less than 3% of all websites in the EU27 are IPv6-compatible.

Frequently Asked Questions

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) 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.

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.

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?

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).

Why is there no Internet Protocol 5?

It does exist but was never introduced for public use

Will my own internet access be affected by the upgrade to IPv6?

There will be no impact in the short term.

Useful Links:

IPv6 website

Digital Agenda website

Neelie Kroes' website

Follow Neelie Kroes on Twitter

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