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As leading websites, ISPs and home router equipment manufacturers support IPv6 by default, it becomes the new normal for the Internet.
In order to ensure the Internet can continue to grow, companies and websites have permanently enabled the next generation of Internet Protocol (IPv6) for their products and services. ipv6logo.png


Participants at the World IPv6 launch included the four most visited websites – Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo! – as well as home router manufacturers and ISPs in more than 100 countries. World IPv6 launch organiser, Internet Society, wants to ensure the Internet remains accessible to everyone.


“The support of IPv6 from these organisations delivers a message to the world: IPv6 is not just a ‘nice to have’; it is ready for business and will soon be a ‘must have," says Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer, Internet Society. Major websites are permanently enabling IPv6 from today. ISPs will enable IPv6 across a significant portion of their current and all new residential wireline subscribers.


Home networking equipment manufacturers will enable IPv6 by default through their range of home router products. This is imperative as the last blocks of the 4.3 billion IP addresses enabled by the current Internet Protocol (IPv4) were assigned to the Regional Internet Registries in February 2011. There is no remaining IPv4 address space to be distributed in Asia Pacific, and soon the rest of the world will follow.


IPv4 address space is expected to run out in Europe this year, in the U.S. next year and in Latin America and Africa in 2014. IPv6 provides more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses (an essentially unlimited number), which will help connect the billions of people. The IPv6 specification is not new. It was originally published in 1998 in (RFC 2460).


At the time we were certain the Internet would come to a complete stop due to insufficient IP address space. All computers would reset themselves on the stroke of midnight December 31 1999. And, IPv6 would secure the growth of the Internet. Fast forward to 2012, and it would appear the Internet as we know it is running fine, supporting more users than ever, despite a  limitation of 4 billion addresses.


How is this possible? The answer lies back in the early days of the Internet, back in 1993. In those days if you wanted to connect to the Internet, you required a public IP address. IANA, the organisation which is responsible for maintaining the global IP address hierarchy, was formed to allocate the IP address spectrum based on need.


The allocation of public IP address space is based on what is known as a Class A network, of which each contains 256 separate network blocks of 16.7 million individual IP addresses. Large US corporations such as General Motors, IBM, Apple, Ford and others were given these blocks of addresses based on their internal needs, since each and every computer connected to the Internet would need a public IP address.


The remaining blocks of addresses were allocated to smaller registries around the world based on population concentration. The reality was this time most Internet access was via dial up modems. Since not everyone wanted to connect at the same time, the classful addressing scheme, which IPv4 used (breaking up large pools of IP addresses into two smaller groups, Class B with 65,000 addresses and Class C with 256 addresses) was a good enough compromise for small, medium and large networks.

The problem was wastage. A company with 10 permanently connected servers or PCs would have an allocation of 256 IP addresses, with the other 246 addresses not being used. New mechanisms were soon developed, namely VLSM (Variable Length Sub net Masking) and NAT (Network Address Translation), which meant only a few public addresses could be allocated to an organisation and internal PCs could use a private address space.


A network router or firewall performing the public to private address translation. The problem with VLSM and NAT was that it worked so well, the imminent IP address depletion crisis was solved and the pressing need for IPv6 was averted. So why has adoption of IPv6 been delayed? The reason behind this is the lack of compatibility between IP addressing versions.


While the older IPv4 standard will run in parallel with IPv6, the two protocols will not inter-operate, which means a complete switch over from one protocol to another. Until the largest IPv4 network in the world, the Internet, itself switches completely to IPv6, many organisations will see no compelling reason to do so.


In addition, IPv6 besides being more efficient in terms of routing and scalability, also promotes better security mechanisms to prevent address spoofing, which in turn, makes the end user's identity more exposed, since the address itself is based on the host identifier portion of the end device’s mac address. Privacy extensions have been developed to help protect end user machine identities, however, the risk is that these extensions could be compromised in the future.


To make IPv6 a reality, a global Internet consensus needs to be reached on a shutdown date for IPv4. Until this happens, the reality is there will be two Internets operating with yet another translation layer to route packets between them.

By Angela Sutherland  

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