IPv6? What is it? And Should I Care?

By Donna Hemmert
AIS Network VP of Strategy

We, the citizens of the Internet, have a problem. Not unlike in 1947 when we were running out of phone numbers and added area codes to expand the raw number of phone numbers available, we have actually run out of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. We have already exhausted 4.3 billion IP addresses from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) pool that are part of the first major deployment of IP addresses, Internet Protocol Version 4, IPv4.

The good news is that we saw it coming, and planning and work has been underway for over a decade. In fact, the new standard, IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6), was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force and published in an Internet Standard document in December 1998. This new protocol will allow the Internet to continue growing. This has become increasingly important with all the new devices that are here and coming to the Internet including mobile phones and tablets.

IPv6 uses 128-bit addressing, creating a huge number of IP addresses. In comparison, IPv4, which is 32-bit, has 4.3 billion IP addresses. How many IP addresses do we get with IPv6? The actual number is typically described as 2 to the 128th power (or 340 trillion trillion), which is sometimes described as virtually unlimited – that’s a big number!!!

So, are you ready? For consumers and small offices, there isn’t a large issue since consumer routers are often equipped with the ability to convert from IPv4 and IPv6, although for best connectivity IPv6 should be native. For businesses and others, you need to be sure you are ready. There are many great resources on the Internet to help you navigate to assure that your equipment is all IPv6 ready, and in fact, you may already have such equipment. But, there is a huge installed base of networking equipment that is not capable of communicating via the IPv6 protocol.

And if you are wondering if there is a deadline for all this (remember Y2K?) – there isn’t. Companies can start to upgrade their networks where needed now and continue over time. This can be done with equipment that handles both IPv4 and IPv6 (NAT translation and dual-stack capable equipment).

The bottom line: To be on the right side of this equation, start looking to the future now and create a plan for a methodical network upgrade that deals with IPv6 while gaining efficiency with the latest generation networking gear.

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