If you are like most people, you have probably heard something called IPv6, but you may not have any idea of what it is, except for something tech-related. What are the advantages of using IPv6 and why does it even exist? In this article, I will try to explain why IPv6 is important to the industry and something that will be more and more common in the future
It may be a minor change for the average consumer but if you are into networking, knowing what IPv6 is, is an absolute must. Read on to find all the (juicy!) details and learn more about IPv6 and why it exists.
To be absolutely technical, IPv6 was created in order to replace IPv4. However, in order to understand what that means, we need to go into some detail. The beginning part of this “code” so to speak, stands for Internet Protocol. An IP address is something that every single computer has. Scratch that – something that every single device that’s attached to the internet has.
This means that your smartphone, tablet, laptop computer, and even gaming platform all have their own IP addresses. Some people compare IP addresses to being kind of like a digital zip code or area code. Without them, your mail or phone calls wouldn’t go to the right places. An IP address makes it easy to locate your connected device.
If you watch a lot of crime-solving shows, then you’re probably familiar with the concept. The IP address is how the law enforcement officers are able to find the bad guys – their tech people hunt down the criminals’ IP addresses.
Let’s get back to IPv4 (which you now know is short for Internet Protocol Version 4) because you need to understand one important thing about it in order to realize why IPv6 was needed. IPv4 consists of a 32-bit address setup. This means that it’s made up of four segments of three numbers. A typical IP address under this scheme looks a little like this: XXX,XXX,XXX,XXX (you can replace those Xs with numbers as well.)
Each of those sets consists of eight bits. When you add them up, you get a total of 32 bits. At first, this system worked just fine, because there were fewer devices in existence. However, thanks to things like WiFi and smartphones, IPv4 ran out of unique addresses. The exact total of these unique addresses was a whopping 4,294,967,296. Yes, you read that right – over four billion IP addresses have been used worldwide.
Since the Internet Society realized that these 32-bit addresses would soon run out, they came up with a new, lengthy protocol, which they called IPv6, or Internet Protocol Version 6. It was officially put into use in 2002. (We’ll get to what happened to IPv5 in a minute). This longer form consists of eight blocks of four numbers each. It looks like this: XXXX,XXXX,XXXX,XXXX,XXXX,XXXX,XXXX,XXXX.
It’s broken up into segments – each consists of four sets of four. The first is the network prefix, and the second is the interface identifier. The network prefix shows where the network is located, while the second is the specific device on that network. As this system is based on 16-bits (each block of four is 16 bits), this is a 128-bit IP address. There will be 340 undecillion unique addresses available. As you can imagine, that’s a lot.
So, today we are using IPv4 and tomorrow we will be using IPv6. What really happened to IPv5? After all, it would make sense to go from IPv4 to IPv5, as it’s next in line numerically and that’s how tech advances usually work. Not in this case. It’s slightly different since IPv5 was created in the 1980s, but never officially used. Those who came up with it set it up similarly to IPv4 in that is also used a 32-bit system. This means that it has the same limitations as IPv4.
When IPv5 was first invented, it was named Internet Stream Protocol. The shortened form of this was simply “ST.” You’d see things like ST/IPv5 written down. This experimental version of Internet Protocol was developed solely for things like streaming videos and sending voice data online. When IPv4 ran out of addresses, thanks to its 32-bit system, IPv5 was abandoned as well. It was far too limited to be of any use in our increasingly internet-dependent society.
We already covered why IPv6 exists, but the real question here is: will it make my internet connections go even faster? Theoretically, it should, as it simplifies the routing process and gives computers a more direct path to the internet. In order for this to make sense, picture your WiFi connection as a long tunnel with your computer on one end and the internet on the other. If you go straight through that tunnel from one side to another, it will take less time than it would if you have to take many twists and turns.
With that said, some tests have been done that showed that there’s no time advantage on computers that use IPv6. Many of the connection and loading speeds were the same, although IPv6 performed slightly better with certain websites. In the future, this may improve, but for right now, switching to IPv6 will not improve your network.
As of right now, there aren’t any plans to phase out IPv4. This means that you don’t have to switch to IPv6 as of yet. Eventually, IPv6 will officially take over, and all devices will need to use it, or they won’t be able to connect to the internet. This process will most likely take place gradually and with plenty of repeated notices if it even happens. IPv4 might end up being supported until all devices using it are so obsolete that they no longer work. There’s no way of knowing what will happen in the future.
On top of this, the migration process isn’t easy. For example, if you work for a company with plenty of computers, switching over to IPv6 will be quite a task. The programs that those computers use will need to be updated in order to work properly, and there’s quite a bit of training involved in the switch. For an individual user, such as yourself, the switch will be both complicated and costly, depending on the age of your computer. It also depends on your internet provider. Many have begun to use the IPv6 system, especially cell phone companies like Verizon and T-Mobile, so you might be using it and not even know it.
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (also known as IANA) is the company that assigns IP addresses all over the world. They have started to send out IPv6 addresses that start with the numbers 2001. The four main places where these numbers have been assigned are in the United States, throughout Europe and Central Asia, in China and Australia (the Pacific region, to be more specific), and in South and Latin America. If you live in one of these areas, you might be assigned an IP address that starts with this number sequence.
So, what does it mean? Well, this is the next number sequence in line. The numbers that range from 001 up to 2000 are used for what’s called Aggregate Global Unicast Addresses. These are meant for communicating globally. Let’s put it simply – those addresses are reserved for specific uses, so your IPv6 address starts with the next available number: 2001.
Hopefully, this clears up some of the mysteries of IPv6. By now, you should know what an IP address is, what happened to IPv4 and 5, and why your new IP starts with the numbers 2001. (Hint: it’s not an homage to 9/11.) Over time, as IPv6 takes over, you’ll not only know why but what makes it so important. It’s always good to be informed about the tech world, especially the segments of it that might impact you in the future.
If you want to learn more about IPv6, I highly suggest that you take a look at the FAQ that Internet Society has on their website. It’s full of answers and information about IPv6. Happy reading.