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AT&T lagging while others lead on IPv6

Carrier vows to be 'prepared for the demand,' but pace prompts concerns

By , Network World
October 27, 2010 05:06 AM ET

Network World - Is AT&T behind on IPv6 deployment?

That's one of the key questions facing U.S. government agencies and corporations as they scramble to deploy next-generation Internet technology ahead of the fast-approaching exhaustion of IP addresses using the current standard, known as IPv4.

Gap between IPv4 depletion, IPv6 adoption widens

AT&T says it has some IPv6 services available to its enterprise customers today, and that it will be ready with a suite of IPv6 offerings for its enterprise and residential customers before market demand arrives.

But IPv6 proponents, Internet industry observers and even some AT&T rivals are worrying that AT&T is a laggard in upgrading its massive network infrastructure to support the new standard. These sources say that any delay in AT&T's support of IPv6 could impact the Internet infrastructure overall, as well as the competitiveness of U.S. e-commerce companies.

There's no question that AT&T is taking a lower profile about next-generation Internet services than its rivals and hosting later public trials of IPv6 than Comcast and Verizon.

"I'm surprised AT&T is not talking about IPv6 more," says Tim Winters, senior manager at the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Lab, which is a premier IPv6 product testing facility. "I haven't heard of any vendors trying to get into AT&T's network and needing to do IPv6 testing. We've heard from vendors making CPE or set-top boxes for Verizon and Comcast."

AT&T also appears to lag behind smaller carriers such as Hurricane Electric, NTT America and Global Crossing, which have offered native IPv6 services in the United States for several years and have large customers they talk about publicly.  

"What AT&T says about their business customers is that they have other priorities that they need to spend their network investment dollars on besides IPv6," says Melanie Posey, vice president for hosting and managed network services research at IDC. "I'm not sure if they are waiting for everybody else to move more aggressively to IPv6 and that is what will force them into it. I get the feeling that is their strategy to the extent they have a strategy."

IPv4 address depletion looms

IPv6 is the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6 , on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices – 2 to the 128th power.

Less than 5% of IPv4 addresses are still available as of last week, according to the regional Internet registries that allocate IPv4 and IPv6 address space to carriers. Experts predict that the registries will hand out the remaining IPv4 addresses by the end of 2011, leading to full-fledged IPv4 address depletion.

Once IPv4 addresses are depleted, ISPs must give their new customers IPv6 addresses or use carrier-grade network address translation (NAT) to share a single IPv4 address among multiple customers. Carrier-grade NAT is expected to result in slower performing, more costly and more complicated network services than native IPv6 services.

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