IPv6 is here to stay

Sergio Costas, Researcher

The current tendency of interconnecting all kind of devices to the Internet has forced a paramount technological change. Since 1981, the Big Network relied on IPv4 protocol to send data from one point to another, but it has a big shortcoming: it has a limit of about four thousand million devices, due to the fact that the IP address for each one (which is the equivalent, in computers, to a phone number) is stored in 32 bits. This number does not even allow to assign one IP address to each people in Earth. In fact, in the last years the number of free IP addresses has been getting smaller, threatening the Big Net.

To fix this problem, the IPv6 protocol was developed, which expands the size of the IP addresses up to 128 bits, allowing to use, approximately, 3.4×10^38 addresses. One of the main reasons after such a big quantity is to simplify the routing and addresses assignment algorithms.

Having such a number of addresses allows to develop and deploy new applications that, with the old protocol, were not possible. With IPv4, each home receives a single IP address, and all the devices (computers, tablets, multimedia hard disks…) must share it, which results in some troubles. But with IPv6, each device can have its own IP address, being a first-class citizen in the Net. This allows, for example, to get access from outside to our multimedia hard disk to start a recording.

A step forward from domotic

But the big advantage is that it will allow to add new capabilities to more devices, like the heating system, the kitchen, or even the lamps or the automatic blinds, allowing to go a step further in domotic. This is the so-called “Internet of Things”, and its purpose is to give voice to common devices, allowing communications between them and offering new services and capabilities to simplify our lives.

Unfortunately, the change is not as easy as pressing a button or pulling a plug, because to use IPv6 is a must to support it in all routers, content providers (google, facebook, youtube, etc), operating systems, internet providers and DNS servers. Changing all those elements can’t be done in a single day, which forces to do a progressive migration, and ensure the peaceful coexistence of both IPv4 and IPv6. This process can last several years.

The first world-wide test of IPv6 was made at July 8, 2011, and there participated more than 400 providers (including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook), which turned on during 24 hours the compatibility layer with the new protocol. The test was successful, with only minor glitches that were fixed in the upcoming months.

But the big day was June 6, 2012, when the new protocol was turned on forever. It is now when the last phase of the migration starts, and it will require several years to being complete.

Since its beginnings, Gradiant has been working on these technologies, and has big experience on “Internet of Things”, a field where it is actively developing several projects, in companion with other companies.

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