The New Zealand government has begun moving to encourage public-sector agencies to adopt IPv6 internet addressing. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and its Government Technology Services unit have launched a website, www.ipv6.govt.nz, containing advice and links to help smooth the path to IPv6 adoption.
This is the week when, according to trusted mathematical models, the last of the old-style IPv4 addresses will be distributed from the world's central pool.
The DIA site is constructed with a dual IP stack, to operate with both protocols and provide an example of what DIA recommends as the most appropriate process for IPv6 adoption. Under this scheme, an organisation continues with existing IPv4 addresses but adds IPv6 addressability alongside that, permitting a gradual transition, with dual routes into the organisation's servers during the transition period.
This approach is also recommended by the private-sector IPv6 Taskforce and InternetNZ.
Commentators often emphasise the question of IPv4 addresses running out, but a potentially more serious problem, DIA warns, is that government agencies who do not adopt IPv6 will simply not be accessible to an increasing number of their customers.
"It is anticipated that due to the global growth of mobile and internet usage, there will eventually be IPv6-only users," DIA states on the website; "by doing nothing, users of New Zealand Government websites, both national and international, would eventually be at risk of not being able to access government public websites."
Millions of mobile devices in particular will soon operate purely on IPv6, says Professor Brian Carpenter of the University of Auckland, who has made a careful study of the challenge.
Dual stack deployment "is by far the simplest method," Carpenter said last year; but ISPs "find this operationally challenging, and prefer to tunnel v6 in v4 or conversely." Tunnelling, a less efficient expedient, involves encapsulating packets of one protocol in packets of the other, so they transfer over the different network and can be unpacked at the other end.
The rate of IPv6 adoption in New Zealand is "not fast enough", says Murray Milner, head of the IPv6 Taskforce (www.ipv6.org.nz). As its latest tactic in encouraging businesses here to accommodate the new addressing scheme, the taskforce website has now installed a scrolling banner publicising organisations that have already made the move.
A half-time co-ordinator has been recruited to work with businesses transitioning to IPv6 and the taskforce will run more events this year.
Geoff Huston, research fellow at the Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures in Melbourne, maintains a model to predict the rate of IPv4 exhaustion. He now predicts February 2 as the date when the central address allocating body, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), will allocate its last block of IPv4 addresses.
IANA distributes the addresses to regional bodies, which transmit them on to users and ISPs, so it will be a few more months before all addresses are taken up and even then there is expected to be some trading of addresses no longer needed.
Milner points out that New Zealand's regional authority, the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, also looks after China, with its rapid economic growth, so this region could be particularly hard-pressed for supply of the old-style addresses.
Until now, the government here has avoided becoming directly involved in IPv6 adoption, preferring to leave the initiative to private industry. It has not, for example, mandated a cutover date like that for analogue television.
Meanwhile, Telecom plays down the need for immediate change, while insisting it has the matter in hand. "We currently have a sufficient IPv4 address pool to last us a number of years and we will be progressing that transition in a very managed way for customers," says a spokeswoman.
"Our IPv6 team is working with our customers, government agencies, other industry players and vendor partners to determine the best approach to accommodate the transition towards IPv6, when and where it is required. We expect a smooth migration with the two protocols running side by side for a number of years.
"The extent and rate at which popular content and applications will not be, or will cease to be, reachable via IPv4, and in what timeframe, is very much unconfirmed," the Telecom spokesperson adds. "Although at some stage in the future end users will need to replace or update their home router (modem), this should not be reason for concern at this stage."