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The majority of UK's SMEs could not function without the internet. So what happens when your website is inaccessible?

It’s almost impossible to imagine a business running without the internet. In today’s competitive market, consumers will simply go elsewhere if they can’t access a company’s website for more information.

This means businesses cannot afford for their website to be inaccessible. In general, that means ensuring that their websites are IPv6 enabled. But what is IPv6 and why does it matter?

IPv6 demystified

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, PDAs – any device that can connect to the internet – requires its own Internet Protocol (IP) address. This is a unique identifier that enables it to communicate with other devices on the internet. Today’s internet is primarily based on IP version 4 (IPv4), but there are a limited number of IPv4 addresses available, and Europe has nearly run out.

The new standard is IPv6. What’s the difference? IPv4 was designed long before the existence of Internet-connected devices, such as smartphones. The way IPv4 was designed it only allowed for about four billion IP addresses. IPv6 was designed to provide many trillions of addresses, so the future growth of the Internet and connected devices could continue across the world unencumbered.

What’s the difference?

IPv4 and IPv6 are not directly compatible – hardware designed specifically for IPv4 will not be able to talk to devices designed for IPv6. This means that if you have a customer using only IPv6 and you’re running IPv4 hardware, they won’t be able to access your site. This potential loss of accessibility could have a hugely detrimental impact on any business.

To prepare for the future, your business should deploy equipment which can handle dual-stacking – the ability to run both IPv4 and IPv6. This will ensure that anyone using either an IPv4- or IPv6-enabled device can access your business’s website. 

Axel Pawlik is the managing director of the RIPE Network Coordination Centre.

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