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What Will the Switch to IPv6 Look Like? (Here's a Glimpse.)

There are two versions of IP addresses: IPv4 and IPv6, as in "version 4" and "version 6." IPv4 is the version that most of us are familiar with and use. (It's not our choice: We use whatever protocol our Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses. Read our article for more information on the two.) IPv6 is sometimes referred to as "IPng," as in "next generation." And it's not on the horizon—it's already here.

About your IP address.

As you may have learned, everyone who is connected to the Internet has an IP address assigned to their computer. IPv4, the version of the IP addressing protocol, was developed to handle all IP address requests. But it was clear to the technically minded that one day we might actually run out of IP addresses, so a new version of IP address was created, not just to accommodate the overflow but to, in fact, create millions more IP addresses.

What the IP future looks like.

You might be wondering what it's going to be like when your ISP decides to move its customers to the new IP address. Below, we've reproduced an explanation of the switch from IPv4 to IPv6 that was provided by a cable ISP (Cox Communications) to its business subscribers in the Southwest. We're not promoting the ISP—we're just using their explanation here for educational purposes:

Why a new Internet protocol is happening. IPv6 replaces the current Internet Protocol, called IPv4, which has been in use since 1981. One thing that IPv4 specifies is the unique IP address of an Internet-connected device. These IP addresses look something like this: 192.149.252.75. With the explosion of Internet-enabled devices, including mobile netbooks, tablets and smartphones, as well as developing nations' fast-adoption to the Internet, IPv4 will not be able to supply the world's need for addresses. In North America, these addresses are expected to be exhausted in mid-2012. The free pool of addresses has already run out in the Asia-Pacific region. IPv6 addresses are 128-bit in size and are formatted like this: 2001:1E8C:D0CA:F001:0000:0000:0000:0000. The new format supplies an extremely large number of possible addresses: 3.4 x 10^38 (or 340 undecillion).

What a Cox customer can expect. As integration of IPv6 takes place, customers should not perceive a change in their Internet experience. We're trialing installation, operations and support processes right now in our markets to prevent any negative business impact. There will be no change in monthly charges for IPv6 connectivity.

How Cox prepared for IPv6. Our backbone supports IPv6 today, as well as the backbone routers, Internet transit and peering connections between other Internet service and content providers (i.e. Google) and us. All our market metro core networks support IPv6 now.

Cox uses a "Dual Stack" implementation. This means that IPv4 and IPv6 will run concurrently for our IPv6-enabled customers at the network level. The cable MSOs (multi-service operators) have chosen this important approach to minimize customer impact. While IPv4 cannot support the growing address needs of the world, it is not going away anytime soon. And IPv4 to IPv6 is neither forward nor backward compatible. Service Providers can address this problem using what is called "Carrier-Grade Network Address Translation" or "NAT." NAT works very well for most Internet and Email use. Latency is the only measured effect from NAT for general use, and the effect is negligible for most applications. However, packet-loss occurs when peer-to-peer networking, video-streaming or broadcast/multicast applications use NAT. Dual stack eliminates this issue.

Dual stack transition is inevitable. As a company becomes IPv6-capable, it needs to maintain its communication ability via an IPv4 address. It will need to keep this IPv4 capability and operate in dual stack mode with Cox services for as long as there are other devices and services on the Internet that are reachable only using IPv4.

What is Cox still working on to be IPv6 compatible? Cox is an active participant in Internet standards bodies, industry forums and IPv6 trials and testing. We are continuing to deploy IPv6 deeper into our network to the "headend" to support business customers and also to residential "headends" to support our growing DOCSIS 3-enabled-network.

We are in the process of testing Cox-provided customer equipment with all the vendors we do business with today to validate their IPv6 functionality is working properly within our network. The DOCSIS 3.0 standard supports the IPv6 protocol but with the software changes made to the equipment, we must validate this functionality.

New applications that exploit IPv6 capabilities are on the horizon, and we are looking to provide opportunities that this protocol can bring to our end-users and to improve the network we supply.

What customers should do to prepare. You should begin to understand where your equipment and software stands regarding IPv6 capability. This inventory will assist you in planning what needs to change as IPv6 becomes more prevalent. IPv6 will need to be activated on your routers, modems, servers and software. For new purchases of equipment and software, make sure your selections are IPv6 capable. Also, businesses may use consumer-grade equipment that is not IPv6 capable. Some typical examples include IP-TVs and gaming consoles.

2014 Cox Communications

IPv6 and your future.

As you can see by the above customer communication, ISPs are well aware of what's involved in switching their customers to IPv6. Chances are, you won't notice anything different and won't need to do anything to get ready for it...which is just as well. All you need to know is that your Internet connection will be there when you need it.

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