What is IPv6? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is a network layer protocol that enables data communications over a packet switched network. Packet switching involves the sending and receiving of data in packets between two nodes in a network. The working standard for the IPv6 protocol was published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1998. The IETF specification for IPv6 is RFC 2460. IPv6 was intended to replace the widely used Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) that is considered the backbone of the modern Internet.
IPv6 is often referred to as the “next generation Internet” because of its expanded capabilities and its growth through recent large scale deployments. In 2004, Japan and Korea were acknowledged as having the first public deployments of IPv6.
With the IPv4, the fourth generation of the Internet Protocol in use since the 1980s, the address actually consists of a binary 32-bit number. To make it easier for people, it is converted into four groups of figures (called octets), ranging from 0 to 255, each divided by a dot, e.g. 198.51.100.0.
This combination makes 4.3 billion unique IP addresses possible, which certainly sufficed in the early years of the internet. In the meantime, the number of devices with an internet connection has risen enormously. Cameras, refrigerators, TVs, smart assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, etc., all need an IP address. The IPv4 addresses were at risk of being exhausted. The IETF, the organisation that defines the standards for the internet, had actually foreseen this situation. Work on a new version of the Internet Protocol, i.e. IPv6, had got under way already at the turn of the century.
The most obvious answer is that IPv4 is out of IP addresses. IPv4 has only 4.3 billion addresses, and with PCs, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, and just about everything else connecting to the Internet we’ve tapped the system dry. IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses and is capable of 340 undecillion addresses. That is 340 times 10 to the 36th power, or 340 trillion trillion trillion possible IP addresses.
What are the differences between IPv4 and IPv6?
The major difference of course is that IPv6 will be able to meet amply the demand for new IP addresses for a number of years. IPv6 moreover has many advantages for ISPs and network operators. For instance, there is a better multicast routing, simpler header format, more efficient routing, the possibility to provide real Quality of Service, built-in authentication, simpler administration, etc.
In plain language: normally, you have only one IP address on the internet, that of your router who connects you with your ISP. Your router in turn gives internal, private IP addresses to all devices in your house which are connected with that router, for it must keep an eye at all times on which packages have to go to which device. That also entails that the internal private IP addresses have to be converted to that public IPv4 address. That is not efficient, however, and makes things more complicated.
In IPv6, on the other hand, there are more than enough addresses to give each device its unique public IPv6 address as a standard. It is far simpler, in other words, so this problem belongs to the past.
What are the benefits of IPv6?
In its work, the IETF(Internet Engineering Task Force) included enhancements to IPv6 compared with IPv4. The IPv6 protocol can handle packets more efficiently, improve performance and increase security. It enables internet service providers to reduce the size of their routing tables by making them more hierarchical.
Who is deploying IPv6?
Carrier networks and ISPs have been the first group to start deploying IPv6 on their networks, with mobile networks leading the charge. For example, T-Mobile USA has more than 90% of its traffic going over IPv6, with Verizon Wireless close behind at 82.25%. Comcast and AT&T have its networks at 63% and 65%, respectively, according to the industry group World Ipv6 Launch.
Major websites are following suit – just under 30% of the Alexa Top 1000 websites are currently reachable over IPv6, World IPv6 Launch says.
Enterprises are trailing in deployment, with slightly under one-fourth of enterprises advertising IPv6 prefixes, according to the Internet Society’s “State of IPv6 Deployment 2017” report. Complexity, costs and time needed to complete are all reasons given. In addition, some projects have been delayed due to software compatibility. For example, a January 2017 report said a bug in Windows 10 was “undermining Microsoft’s efforts to roll out an IPv6-only network at its Seattle headquarters.”
There is a great chance that you are already surfing with IPv6. In concrete terms, to be able to use IPv6, you need:
- An IPv6 compatible operating system – and most of them have been compatible for some time now. Windows has supported IPv6 since Vista and later versions. Windows XP does not support it, but in all honesty, this version must not be used any longer for security reasons. All modern versions of the Mac OS X and Linux support IPv6.
- A router with IPv6 support – which most have already since 2012, especially routers who are supplied by the ISPs themselves for a new connection.
- An Internet Service Provider who has activated IPv6. And we in Belgium have nothing to complain about on this front: our providers the frontrunners in the use of IPv6.
Are you wondering whether you already have IPv6? Then just do the test on TestMyIPv6. It’s quite nice, actually, how the organisations who are responsible for the reliability of the internet in the background, have made sure that we needn’t lose any sleep worrying about IPv4 addresses being exhausted. They have implemented this important transition to IPv6 smoothly, without you even noticing it. So you can sleep with peace of mind again: the internet will be fine for years to come!