Internet Powers Flip Open The IPv6 Switch

Facebook, Cisco, Comcast, Google, Yahoo and other big-name Internet companies permanently switched on the next-generation IPv6 networking technology on June 6, 2012

At present, IPv6 is being enabled and kept on by more than 1,500 Web sites and ISPs in 22 countries.

Internet Protocol version 6 has one big improvement over the prevailing IPv4 standard it’s designed to supplant: room to grow. In practice, IPv6 has been gradually arriving on the Net already, and there’s a long way to go after the event. But the launch day is a real milestone.

The absolute need for IPv6

IPv 6 required because the Internet is running out of room. Today, IPv4 is used to describe the network address to almost all smartphones, PCs, servers, and Internet-enabled refrigerators so that other devices can exchange data.

IPv4, though, offers only 4.3 billion addresses (2 to the 32nd power, or 4,294,967,296, to be precise). That may sound like a lot, but there are ever more devices to connect to the Internet, and many of the IPv4 addresses are inaccessibly squirreled away by organizations that got large tracts of them earlier in the history of the Internet.

The upshot is that the problem called IPv4 address exhaustion is real: the pipeline of new ones is emptying out. That’s a problem for businesses that want to set up new Internet services or for carriers wanting to sell another few million smartphones.

IPv6 offers 340 undecillion addresses (2 to the 128th power, or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456, to be precise).

There’s only one problem: Upgrading the Internet to IPv6 — and that means the entire Internet — is expensive, requires a lot of work, and is something most of the computing industry has been putting off until absolutely necessary. There are still procrastinators, but its time now has come.

The Federal Communications Commission shows the relative size of the IPv6 address space enabled by the longer Internet addresses.
(Credit: FCC)

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