The IPv6 transition

2010-10-19

in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters

Internet protocol is the principle communication protocol used to transmit packets of information across the internet. All devices that are connected to the internet are assigned internet protocol addresses (IP addresses) which consists of a 32-bit number. That may have been adequate when the most widely used version of internet protocol was deployed in 1981 (IPv4), but it only allows 4,294,967,296 possible IP addresses. As an increasing number of phones, computers, appliances, vehicles, and more get connected to the internet, the number of addresses available through IPv4 is rapidly dwindling. The Number Resources Organization expects them to be used up in a few months.

IPv6 is the successor to IPv4, and it has been in the works for over a decade. It supports addresses of 128 bits: providing enormously more than IPv4. Unfortunately, there are major barriers to making the transition. Every single device between the endpoints of any IPv6 communication needs to be IPv6 compatible. As a result, the transition will be ugly and difficult.

What’s going to happen? One possible bridging approach, while we are waiting for IPv6 to be fully implemented, is Network Address Translation (NAT). This is what your router at home does. From the perspective of your internet service provider (ISP), your whole house has one IP address. The router splits up that address between all the devices you use, making sure the connections from each to outside devices are properly managed. Faced with a shortage of IP addresses, it is likely that some organizations will move this process ‘upstream’ and create situations where groups of households share single IP addresses.

It’s hard to anticipate what consequences will arise from all of this, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on, at least for the geekier and more internet-dependent members of the populace.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah October 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm

IPv6 was buggering up my wireless earlier this summer, because it turned out somewhere in my Macbook setting a box had been ticked (never by me, so presumably as a default setting) to enable IPv6 for wireless and hence my wireless internet at UBC wouldn’t work. It took about 2 hours with 3 of the UBC Arts tech support guys before we figured out what was wrong, & then it was fixed by simply clicking the box to turn off IPv6. The tech support dudes thought it was hilarious that Apple were sufficiently optimistic / naive as to believe that IPv6 would be standard anytime soon.

Milan October 19, 2010 at 11:13 pm

The adoption of IPv6 may speed up considerably in a few months, when there are simply no IPv4 addresses left.

Matt October 20, 2010 at 1:04 am

Isn’t one of the advantages of IPv6 is that virtually every device wool have its own IP? For instance all computers on a home network could have their own IP available to the internetrather than a 192.168.x.x-esque IP served locally by a router. Of course I’m not sure how that would affect firewalls and LANs, but I’m sure that’s been considered.

Matt October 20, 2010 at 1:05 am

Pardon any errors above, I typed the part with “swype.”

R.K. October 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

How are IP addresses allocated when they are scarce? Are they auctioned off like radio spectrum?

. October 20, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Internet users to exceed 2 billion by the end of 2010

One third of the world’s population will be online by the end of the year, according to United Nations statistics.

The number of people online has doubled to two billion in the last five years, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said.

Of the 226m new net users that have come online this year, more than two thirds are from developing countries.

However, the data show that connections in the developed world still outstrip those in the developing world.

The report suggests that 71% of people in western countries will be online by the end of 2010, compared to just 21% in developing countries.

. October 21, 2010 at 8:46 am

“Every discussion about IPv4 address exhaustion prompts comments about whether Apple (or MIT, or UCB, or whoever) needs all of those addresses. Interop has set the example by returning 16 million IPv4 addresses to the ARIN pool, extending the IPv4 address exhaustion deadline by a whole month.”

. October 22, 2010 at 7:54 pm

“Everyone knows that IPv4 addresses are nearly gone and the ongoing move to IPv6 is inevitable if not exactly welcomed by all. If you’ve ever wondered why the IT world finds itself in this situation, Vint Cerf, known far and wide as one of the fathers of the Internet, wants you to know that it’s OK to blame him. He certainly does so himself. In fact, he does so time and time and time again.”

. December 5, 2010 at 6:09 pm

“For those of you keeping score, ICANN just allocated another four /8 IPv4 blocks; 23/8 and 100/8 to ARIN, 5/8 and 37/8 to RIPE, leaving just seven /8s unassigned. In effect however, this means that there are now just two /8s available before the entire pool will be assigned due to an arrangement whereby the five Regional Internet Registries would each automatically receive one of the final five /8s once that threshold was met. The IPv4 Address Report counter at Potaroo.net is pending an update and still saying 96 days, but it’s now starting to look doubtful that we’re going to even make it to January.”

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