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The future is now: You may already be using IPv6

Stephen Lawson | April 15, 2015
You've probably heard about the looming shortage of Internet addresses, even if you've never gone looking for one. But depending on what websites you visit and how you get to them, you may be helping to solve it.

You've probably heard about the looming shortage of Internet addresses, even if you've never gone looking for one. But depending on what websites you visit and how you get to them, you may be helping to solve it.

If you go to Google or Facebook through a major carrier in the U.S., Germany or France, for example, there's a decent chance you're using IPv6 [Internet Protocol, Version 6], the next-generation system that has so many addresses that the world may never use them up. Though it's pretty much invisible to end users, the new protocol is already making service providers' networks run better and may be speeding up your connections, too.

"I think a lot of people don't realize how much IPv6 there is out there," said Mat Ford, technical program manager of the Internet Society, the organizer of World IPv6 Launch.

On Tuesday, Ford's group released its latest monthly figures for IPv6 connectivity. Among the findings: More than 66 percent of connections from Verizon Wireless customers to big Internet companies went over IPv6. At T-Mobile USA, IPv6 traffic exceeded 53 percent.

These are measurements of IPv6 traffic to five big Internet companies that make content available via the new protocol: Google, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Akamai.

Mobile is where IPv6 is catching on first, in many cases, because connecting all those devices requires lots of unique addresses. But some wireline networks are getting into the game, too. More than 46 percent of connections from AT&T's wired broadband network used the new protocol, as did about one-third of the traffic from Comcast customers. Outside the U.S., Deutsche Telekom and French carrier Free were both around 29 percent IPv6.

This evolution is invisible to most consumers.

"If you're a Verizon customer and you have a mobile handset, it is quite possible that you're an IPv6 user and you don't know it," said John Curran, president and CEO of ARIN [American Registry for Internet Numbers], which is in charge of addresses for North America.

All smartphones now ship with IPv6 capability. Some home broadband gateways support the new protocol, and some older models can be upgraded by the service provider.

Though consumers may not notice the shift, it's expected to be a critical change for the Internet in the coming years.

Most of the Internet is still made up of PCs, Web servers, phones and other devices that identify themselves using IPv4, a system that was first deployed in 1981 and only has 4.3 billion unique addresses. If there are more than 700 million arrangement could run into problems. And it has: The regional organizations that give out fresh IP addresses all say their IPv4 supplies are running low, and the market for unused address space may be heating up.

 

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