Apr 262012

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Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the latest Internet Protocol, succeeding version 4, which directs almost all Internet traffic. The Internet transfers data between hosts in packets which are routed across networks as specified by routing protocols. Internet Protocol acts as an addressing scheme that specifies the source and destination addresses.

Lost yet? No worries – we’ll break down what it is and how it will affect you.

Internet Protocol Simplified

Any device that connects to the Internet needs an IP address. Internet Protocol provides the IP addresses, with each successive version providing more addresses to meet the growing demand. Just like mailing regular post, you can’t send or receive anything unless you have an address to direct the location of the data. Each piece of data is then broken into “packets” that may take different routes to reach their destination, with each packet taking the route that is quickest for it individually.

How Is IPv6 Different Than IPv4?

IPv6 resolves the address exhaustion that plagued IPv4. Each version of Internet Protocol has a limited number of IP addresses and issues start to arise when the maximum is reached, as it currently is with IPv4. Approximately 4.3 billion IP addresses exist in IPv4, but in summer 2011, Asia officially ran out of IPv4 IP addresses. Short-term solutions were put in place such as reclamation of unused IPv4 space, but the only long-term solution to avoiding this problem on a global level is the deployment of IPv6.

IPv6 will take longer to reach address exhaustion because the IP addresses are longer in the new version. Expanding from 32 bits in version 4 to 128 bits in version 6, this means while IPv4 has 4.3 billion IP addresses, IPv6 will have 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 addresses, which hopefully means we won’t run out again any time soon.

There are more advantages to IPv6 than just the number of addresses as well. The new version will simplify the address assignment process and provide more network security features. While running out of IP addresses makes for good headlines to get a buzz going about IPv6, these new features are noteworthy on their own.

What Does All This Mean for Me?

Hopefully, IPv6 brings no major impacts for most computer users. Most operating systems, including Windows XP SP 1 and Mac OS X 10.2 already support version 6. The problem comes from many routers and servers that unfortunately don’t support it. Does that mean we just need a global overhaul to replace our routers and servers, and switch to IPv6? Quite simply – no. The tech world is already finding bugs with this latest version and some are downright unhappy with the changes. Estimations put full IPv6 deployment several years down the line.

In the end, the Internet Society estimates that only 0.05% of Internet users will be directly affected by this latest version. So sit back and wait for the transition for now. Sure, there are bugs and issues will arise. But once those kinks are worked out, IPv6 is sure to make its mark.

Darren Bunker is Chief Operations Officer at QubeGB, a telecommunications company in the UK. When Darren is not out supporting his favourite rugby team he can be found working with his teams in the Galashiels and London offices. Darren is passionate about the communications industry and has just written a guide on how to speed up home broadband on the QubeGB Squidoo page. If you would like to keep up to date with company news, please visit the Qube GB LinkedIn page.

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