Transitioning the Internet to IPv6
April 7, 2014
by Mark Ollig

The Internet’s device addressing system, like the 1977 song by Jackson Browne, is “Running on Empty.”

In 1981, a very young Internet began using a device addressing system called Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4).

By 1983, the Internet was being used by the Department of Defense for connecting researchers and universities.

The IPv4 addressing system provides a unique way of identifying individual computers and other devices, allowing them to communicate with each other over the Internet.

A good analogy to compare this to would be with a ten-digit telephone number.

IPv4 is a four decimal, 32-bit code.

For example, a dotted, decimal format Internet Protocol (IP) address of when written in binary code is this: 11011000.00011011.00111101.10001001.

Four decimal points separate each of the eight binary bits, which make up the 32 bits of the IPv4 code.

There can be understandable confusion, because eight bits are known as a byte; however, the size of the byte is referenced as an octet when used in protocol definitions.

Each of these eight binary positions can have two different states (1 or 0); the total number of combinations per octet is 256.

Since each octet can contain any value between 0 and 255, the four octets will provide a maximum combination of 4,294,967,296 unique IP addresses.

I know – it’s a math thing. Thank goodness my mother quizzed me on multiplication tables when I was in third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Seymour, was impressed; and yes, mom, I still remember them.

I watched a 2012 video in which Vinton Cerf, one of the co-creators of IPv4, talked about the problem we face with running out of Internet addresses, and why we need to use IPv6.

Back in 1976, when IPv4 was undergoing development by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, they considered the Internet as just an experiment, and assumed having an IP addressing pool of nearly 4.3 billion unique numbers, or Internet termination points, would be enough.

By 1983, both still believed 4.3 billion Internet addresses would suffice “forever,” according to Cerf.

“The thing is, the experiment never ended,” he added.

They soon realized in the early 1990s, that 4.3 billion unique Internet addresses would not be enough, as more and more computers and other devices, became connected to this ever-growing Internet experiment.

Each of these new devices required their own unique Internet protocol identifier address.

So, in 1996, they developed a new formatting protocol for the Internet called IPv6.

I know what you may be thinking; “What happened to IPv5?”

Well, this IP version was not presented for public use.

IPv5 was developed in the late 1970s, and was an experimental design for providing a real-time streaming protocol called Internet ST (Internet Stream Protocol).

It was intended for the transmission of voice and video signals, and was to be used by the military for the “distributed simulation” of real-time war-games.

IPv6 has enough capacity to provide unique addresses for a nearly unlimited number of devices.

There are 128 bits of address space with IPv6, compared with 32 bits used on IPv4.

How many unique IP addresses will IPv6 provide?

Hold on folks, because it is a colossal-sized number 340 trillion, trillion, trillion, or 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

“If I had known in 1973, what was going to happen in 2013, I would have insisted on a much larger address space so we wouldn’t have to go through this transition,” Cerf said last June, while talking about IPv6.

It is predicted this year there will be over 7 billion mobile cell phones in use worldwide. If all of these cell phones required Internet access, it would exhaust the current IPv4 limit.

Future cell phones, mobile computing and smart devices, electronic monitors and sensors, our automobiles, and even robotic devices, will be connected to the Internet.

These, and other yet-to-be-invented gadgets, add urgency to the importance of our achieving a world-wide deployment of IPv6.

Today, manufacturers of data routers, servers, switches, mobile smart devices, and other equipment, along with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), public and private businesses, and government agencies throughout the world, have already made, or are currently working on, provisioning IPv6.

IPv4 will continue to operate parallel with IPv6 throughout the transition. This will allow the Internet network operators the time needed to eventually phase out the old IPv4 standard.

We should note the mobile phones and smart devices we currently have may already support IPv6; however, the Internet sites we go to, and the ISPs, need to enable IPv6 functionality, before we can take full advantage of it.

The transition to IPv6 will allow us to connect and communicate with additional billions, and theoretically trillions, of new devices over the Internet, thus bringing to realization the “Internet of Everything.”

Are you IPv6 ready? To find out, click on Google’s IPv6 test site link, http://ipv6test.google.com.

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