Internet service providers, website owners and home networking equipment manufacturers around the world today permanently enabled the next generation of internet protocol (IPv6) for their products and services.
World IPv6 Launch has been organised by the Internet Society, in an attempt to kickstart a global transition to the new internet protocol. The organisation claims that the move is necessary to ensure that the internet remains open and accessible for everyone, including the five billion people not yet connected to the Internet.
This is because the stock of 4.3 billion IP addresses enabled by the current internet protocol (IPv4) is close to depletion, thanks to the proliferation of web-connected devices. Already there is no remaining IPv4 address space to be distributed in the Asia Pacific region, and Europe is expected to run out this year, followed by the US next year, and in Latin America and Africa in 2014.
By contrast, IPv6 allows for 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses - enough to not only accommodate internet growth for the foreseeable future, but also to enable the Internet of Things, providing a large enough address pool for every electronic appliance to have an IP address and share data with other appliances in real time without human intervention.
"The support of IPv6 from these thousands of organisations delivers a critical message to the world: IPv6 is not just a 'nice to have'; it is ready for business today and will very soon be a 'must have,'" said Leslie Daigle, chief internet technology officer at the Internet Society.
"We believe that the commitment of these companies to deploy IPv6 will ensure that they remain industry leaders. Any company wishing to be effective in the new Internet should do the same."
Participants in World IPv6 Launch include some of the most visited websites in the world - Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo - as well as router manufacturers such as Cisco and D-Link, and internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T, Comcast and the UK's education network Janet.
IPv6 will not immediately replace IPv4 on these services, because many websites and networks still rely on IPv4, but will run in parallel, enabling internet users to connect via either protocol. The two protocols are not interoperable, but can communicate with one another using Network Address Translation (NAT).
World IPv6 Launch comes almost exactly a year after the Internet Society's "test flight" for IPv6, dubbed World IPv6 Day, when tech giants and content delivery networks enabled IPv6 on their main services for 24 hours.
The day was hailed as a success, although a small number of people experienced slow page loads, due to some networks giving a false appearance of IPv6 connectivity. The operating system algorithms have since been tweaked to take account of this issue.
Today's launch is not expected to cause any large-scale disruption to internet services. Ovum analyst David Krozier said that most recent vintage computers and servers are IPv6-ready, and Microsoft Vista, Windows 7, and MAC OSX 10.7 all have IPv6 enabled by default.
However, Compuware warns the change will bring added complexity at the edge of the Internet, putting end user experience at risk, and Interoute says that the introduction of IPv6 effectively opens a series of new back doors for viruses to sneak through.
"The introduction of IPv6 will effectively mean that every device, from the mobile phone to the vending machine could become a mole in the office. This puts the onus on organisations to secure and understand these new internet enabled devices that operate within the office walls," said Mark Lewis, VP of development at Interoute.
For more information on World IPv6 Launch, visit http://www.worldipv6launch.org/