By Peter Gradwell, Managing Director:

The internet is full’ claim in this week’s national newspaper headlines comes as a result of the announcement by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) that it will allocate the last seven remaining blocks of addresses this month.

The consensus, with which I agree, seems to be that we will face problems because governments and companies have left dealing with the shortage of IP addresses on the IPv4 addressing scheme to the last minute.

The internet community has used the IPv4 addressing scheme since its inception and there is no doubt we’ve been delinquent in putting off the day when we needed to switch to the new scheme, IPv6.

But this raises real challenges, particularly for VoIP operators and we need to begin addressing them.

The key challenge is that IPv6 is largely untested, so nobody really knows how it’s going to work in the hands of the wider internet users.

There will also need to be network translation “NAT” gateways between the IPv4 and the IPv6 systems.

VoIP is very sensitive to two things:

Firstly, the instability of the underlying internet network supporting VoIP means that calls can be frequently interrupted, causing significant end user disruption.

Secondly, network translation is frequently a cause of poor audio quality and bad service levels for VoIP because the SIP protocol has not really been designed with NAT in mind. Adding more complexity to the system, therefore, is likely to make things worse, not better.

To overcome these challenges and move VoIP to a stage where it works reliably on IPv6, we need to start testing it. Firstly testing our broadband routers and networking equipment, then with IP phones and PBX systems.

The first big test of IPv6 – World IPv6 Day on the 8th June 2011 – will be a great opportunity.

Some of the biggest and most widely used websites like Google, Facebook and Yahoo will have IPv6 enabled for the first time, so for those using IPv6 in their computer already, it will be an opportunity to see, at scale, how well it will work for everyone.

The next stage will be to persuade customers to ask their internet providers for IPv6 connections.

Google says that currently only 0.2% of internet users has IPv6 connectivity and this is going to need to increase enormously to avoid the network translation issues mentioned previously.

Finally, we need to consider our IP phone handsets. With most personal computers, a software update is now easy to deploy and can fix any bugs in the IPv6 network stack that customers are using.

However many VoIP phones get deployed into the field and are not remotely manageable. Upgrading the millions of VoIP phones out there – if required – is going to be a huge logistical challenge and so we should start planning sooner rather than later.

Early indications show that people are starting to understand the problem and to include it into their plans and roadmaps. At Gradwell we’re working first on the core network infrastructure before testing IPv6 on our Hosted PBX platform, DNS and other key services before dealing with VoIP phones and end user devices. With any luck, we’ll all be able to get it working before we run out completely!


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