“How can customers be expected to know what they need?” Cerf said.
He compared Internet protocols to the internal workings of a car engine: “It’s like changing a gear in a car’s transmission. People shouldn’t have to worry about that.”
IP addresses are allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which is operated by ICANN, to five registries representing regions of the globe. Those registries distribute the addresses to Internet service providers like cable and telephone companies, universities, governments and large corporations. Millions of new devices will be attached.
At a ceremony early this month in Florida, the last block of addresses based on the original standard, known as IPv4, were allocated to the five registries.
Comcast began working on the problem nearly six years ago, and last year began customer trials nationwide. Jorge Alberni, a Comcast spokesman, said the trials so far had gone smoothly.
Comcast is now beginning to distribute dual-mode cable modems, for example, that support both the original and the new Internet Protocol versions. By the time the transition is fully under way, Alberni said, most Comcast customers will already be using cable boxes and modems that support IPv6, as the new version is commonly called. In some cases, customers with older equipment will have to make a swap.
“We don’t foresee any problems for our customers,” he said.
To help make the transition to IPv6 easier, Yahoo, Google and Facebook, whose Web sites generate a combined traffic of more than 1 billion visits a day, have agreed to participate in a sort of trial run on June 8, named World IPv6 Day, to make sure their systems are ready. Participants are hoping that such an experiment will shed light on potential glitches.
Still, Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer at the Internet Society, a nonprofit Internet policy organization overseeing the test run, warned that the transition to IPv6 was complex, and would most likely cause headaches for customers as they grappled with compatibility problems.
The hope is that the test run will reveal the exact scope of the challenge.
The change will require companies to retrain technicians and instruct help desk personnel how to field compatibility questions.
“I almost wish we could train the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to come to people’s houses to help out with this,” said Cerf, now chief Internet evangelist at Google.
“This is not just about adding extra numbers,” he said. “It’s a different system.”
If the transition is not done right and done quickly, he said, Internet users with new equipment could face problems viewing Web sites based on the original standard.
Cerf compares the size of the challenge to the problem facing computer users at the turn of the 21st century, when every software program out there had to be modified to recognize the year 2000 and beyond.
“We had to find every place on the network,” he said.
In the end, the year 2000 issue, often referred to as Y2K, caused very few interruptions. However, in this case, the problem won’t go away after a certain date.
Vegoda is optimistic that most people will not notice the difference between the two standards, and expects the transition to go relatively smoothly.