Thursday, January 26, 2012

World IPv6 Launch

Ars Technica reports that the Internet Society is leading the charge in organizing "World IPv6 Launch" on June 6, 2012. Much like the successful "World IPv6 Day" that occurred on June 8, 2011, this event has many of the major internet service providers (including At&T, Comcast, Time Warner) and web companies (including Facebook, Google, Bing, Yahoo!) committed to further the public deployment and adoption of IPv6 technology. However, unlike "World IPv6 Day," which just tested IPv6 services for a mere 24 hours, "World IPv6 Launch" will permanently enable IPv6 for many of the popular products we use daily.

For those unfamiliar, IPv4 is the first and current version of the internet protocol to be widely utilized. While the protocol has very reliably served its purposes, its very limited address space has become a major concern in recent years. IPv4 uses a 32-bit address space, which limits the number of unique addresses to 2^32 (4,294,967,296). While the address availability wasn't a big issue in the late 90s and early 2000s, the recent proliferation of internet connected devices have severely shrunk the number of free IPv4 addresses available. Certain companies have even given back addresses for the public good. IPv6 is the intended successor to IPv4. In addition to many improvements, one of its biggest advances is the use of a 128 addresss space, which gives approximately 3.4×10^38 available unique addresses. To give an idea of the sheer size of this number, we could assign an IPv6 address to every atom on the suface of the earth and still have some left over.

For the conservation of IPv4 addresses, many networks today employ network address translation (NAT) to convert a single public IPv4 address into multiple private local addresses. In fact, most if not all off the shelf home routers have this capability baked in. With the deployment of IPv6, this could all change. In the future, IP addresses won't just be assigned to your computers or digital gadgets; everyone could have unique addresses for all their household appliances--refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, washing machines, practically anything with an on-off switch. And there would still be room for more.

IPv6 is well in the pipeline: what's left on the table is just the schedule for its world wide deployment and adoption. The consequences of such a switch-over in technology, however, remains to be seen. With the possibility of myriad new online devices, the geography of the internet has the potential to dramatically shift. What will the internet will look like in 5 years? 10 years? Only time will tell. The Internet Society's "World IPv6 Launch" is certainly a step in the direction of the future.

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