6UK warns UK risks being left in the past
IPv6 promotion body 6UK has shut down, saying that a lack of government support has left it “powerless” to promote the next generation of Internet protocols, and warning the UK may become an island of obsolete technology.
The board of 6UK – a promotion body set up two years ago – all resigned on Friday saying the job of promoting a move to Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) was impossible. A move to IPv6 is important because it increases the number of Internet addresses, and all the IPv4 addresses have been issued by the global Internet authorities.
However, a lack of government support means the UK’s Internet users will struggle along with workarounds that extend the life of IPv4, but this will leave the UK lagging behind other countries when new Internet-based services emerged, said 6UK director Philip Sheldrake.
IPv6 market failure
“It’s a market failure,” Sheldrake told TechWeekEurope. “When you have IPv4, there is little economic incentive for individual organisations to invest in IPv6.”
While some governments have intervened to encourage the adoption of the new protocol, the UK has done nothing, said Sheldrake. The country now has an adoption rate behind Nigeria, while Slovenia is leading the European region.
“The number one factor differentiating rapid versus laggard nations in IPv6 is government support and endorsement, and integration into government procurement guidelines,” said Sheldrake. “We kept telling ministers this.”
6UK’s advice was to make sites externally addresasble by IPv6 and upgrade the internal networks when possible, but the UK government doesn’t seem to agree. “There is not a single UK government website with IPv6,” said Sheldrake. “It beggars belief that you can’t access any UK government website using IPv6.”
The UK government’s style is to wait for markets to do the work, but markets can’t work in the current situation, said Sheldrake, “and a small bunch of volunteers can’t fix the situation”.
New applications blocked
IPv6 could allow new applications because every Internet device would have a native IP address that others could reach, said Nigel Titley, who chaired 6UK and also chairs RIPE, Europe’s Internet registry. These might include peer-to-peer applications such as allowing smartphones to communicate with each other directly, or Internet-connected cameras sharing content more widely.
IPv4 only allows 4.3 billion IP addresses (less than the number of people on earth) while IPv6 allows 3.4×1038 addresses (300 undecillion). The new protocol was agreed almost 20 years ago, but has not been widely implemented because schemes to continue using IPv4 have worked too well.
Most devices on the Internet do not have a fixed or native IP address, but have one provided by their local network (their ISP or company) through network address translation (NAT). This means that the network has to translate addresses for all traffic crossing to the wider Internet, adding inefficiency, and destroying the original concept of the Internet as an end-to-end network, said Sheldrake.
“NAT sort of works,” he said. “It works for a limited set of applications, such as Web browsing and email.”
Applications like voice over IP, (VoIP) work best when the user has a visible IP address, but providers like Skype have created “bodges” that make things work, said Titley.
Supporting IPv6 would cost the government little or no money, the 6UK volunteers explained, since all network companies and ISPs have enabled the service as an option. “It’s a four line configuration change,” said Titley. “Most decent ISPs these days are offering IPv6 on wired connections [though not on ADSL or wireless links]. It has almost zero cost.”
When it was launched in 2010, 6UK was backed by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). David Hendon, the BIS spokesperson at the time was not avaialable for comment, and BIS told TechWeekEurope that the Internet brief has been passed to the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). That department passed us back to BIS, whose spokesperson pointed us towards its 2010 statement from 6UK’s launch, and provided the following statement:
“BIS and DCMS remain committed to the development of an open internet and regard the use of IPv6 as one of the technologies that is likely to make this possible. For this reason we stimulated the creation of 6UK and gave it an initial grant.
“The expectation was that it would be able to find wider funding and create a central point for the stimulation of IPv6 in the UK. We regret that this has not happened. We will continue to explore with industry and other partners the need for IPv6 and relevant ways in which we may be able to assist.”
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