IPv6: the next generation of Internet addressing

disclosure: this post was written with the help of external contributors under the supervision of Edwige Cottigny and the Orange Business Internet and Digital media team

ipv6.jpgIPv6: the next generation of Internet addressing

Do you know what June 8, 2011 is? It’s “World IPv6 Day”, as named by the Internet Society. The day will be a “test drive” for Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) before full rollouts with major content providers like Google, Yahoo and Facebook take place. Like these, the Orange Business's web  site will be visible today over ipv6.


But is the cyber world really prepared for the biggest upgrade in its 40-year history?

The foundation for Internet communication

The Internet involves the transfer of data in small packets that are independently routed across networks, as specified by an international communications agreement known as the Internet Protocol. Each data packet has two numeric addresses: origin and destination. Since 1981, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) has been the publicly used version. Although IPv4 proved sufficient during the early stages of the Internet, it has been struggling to cope with today’s demand. That’s where IPv6 comes in.

Bigger is better

IPv6’s primary advantage over IPv4 is its virtually unlimited number of addresses. As The Journal’s Francesca Craggs describes in her article “Internet running out of space”, the number of IP addresses is quickly diminishing as a result of the explosive popularity of smartphones and other gadgets with Internet connectivity. Simply put, any device—printer, scanner, tablet, mobile phone—attempting to get onto a network must have an address to connect.

IPv4’s 32-bit capacity enables 4.2 billion addresses—less than a single IP address per person on the planet. In fact, the last top level block of free IPv4 addresses was assigned in February 2011. IPv6’s 128-bit capacity translates to 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses, or 670 quadrillion addresses per square millimetre of the Earth’s surface. While IPv6 solves the capacity issue, migration has moved at a snail’s pace because every device needs to be upgraded to this system, a time-consuming and costly effort to say the least.

Paving the way for succession

In “The Next Web Gold Rush: IPv6”, Forbes’ Eric Savitz suggests that today’s global networks will continue to support both IPv4 and IPv6 for the next few years but all businesses connected to the Internet need to anticipate the pending migration and plan their budgets accordingly. He suggests 3 steps for businesses to adopt in order to plan for an effective implementation:

• Step 1: Conduct an inventory of all the devices that currently require a network connection
• Step 2: Research each vendor’s support pages to determine if the device requires a simple software update or a complete hardware refresh
• Step 3: Assess the upgrade costs and integrate them into a normal IT refresh cycle
Ready or not, IPv6 is destined to become the protocol of choice. I’ve already marked June 8 in my calendar: something tells me it’s going to be the start of something epic in the cyber world.

Edwige Cottigny

Within the digital team of Orange Business, I lead content and special projects.