In 2011, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) allocated the remaining blocks of IPv4 address space to the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). In July 2015, an important milestone was achieved in relation to this; ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry for Americas (U.S and Canada) announced its exhaustion of IPv4 Addresses.
This announcement implies that ARIN joins Europe’s RIPE, Asia’s APNIC and LACNIC in the attainment of IPv4 exhaustion. While the four Regional Internet Registries seem to be on the move to deploy IPv6, Africa’s AFRINIC remains to be pegged on IPv4 address comatose.
IPv6 is the next-generation of the Internet Protocol.
For the readers benefit, TCP/IP is the main Internet technical standard and IPs are basically unique numeric addresses that all devices connected to the Internet (PCs, tablets, phones, printers etc) must have.
The depletion of IPv4 was indeed foreseen by the Internet technical community. Initially, when the Internet Protocol (IP) was developed back in the 1980’s, IP addresses were defined using 32-bit addresses.
This IP came to be what we refer to today as IPv4. This IP resource has a capacity of 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses, and out of this only 3.7 billion are usable by ordinary Internet access devices. The others are used for special protocols like IP multi-casting.
Currently, the world has 7 billion people (2.8) of which are connected on the Internet, with about 20 billion devices.
Technically with IPv4, the potential to accommodate the 20 billion devices is out of the question thus the need to transition to IPv6.
Unlike IPv4, IPv6 Uses 128-bit address space.
Additionally, it has 340 undecillion (340 x 10 ^36) addresses. To put this in perspective: consider our galaxy, the Milky Way has estimated 300 billion stars (300 x 10 ^9).
This is to say that there are a trillion IPv6 addresses than stars in our galaxy. Now the earth’s orbit around the sun is big enough to contain 3,262 earths. Ideally, it would take 21,587,961,064,546 earths like ours to use all the IPv6 addresses.
IPv6 will be able to cater for present and future expansion of the Internet, an aspect that will spur a thriving environment for the Internet of Things (IoT) – a term referring to the potential to connect to the Internet anything and everything capable of having IP addresses.
How an IPv6 address looks like: 2001:0db8::53
Statistics show that IPv6 usage has been increasing gradually over the years. Google reports that last year, IPv6 traffic doubled from 2.5% to 5% and is currently 7% and rising.
Big telecommunication companies, Internet Service Providers, and content providers have been moving to IPv6. Africa is said to be gradually migrating with a number publicly visible networks using IPv6.
Back home in Kenya, Telecom giants such as Safaricom have not been left out in the migration race.
With IPv6, network administrators can easily define the visibility of each IP address based on preference. This allows companies to keep IP addresses public, but still secure when transmitting between private networks.
Additionally, deploying IPv6 infrastructure can also help businesses improve network performance and assure optimal performance within the network architecture.
Despite being the IP of choice for the next generation of the Internet, IPv6 does come with some challenges.
The main challenge facing its deployment is the lack of backward compatibility between IPv6 and IPv4.
This is to say that networks using IPv6 cannot communicate directly to those, still dominant today, using IPv4. Since it is very likely that networks using IPv4 and IPv6 will coexist in the days to come, it is crucial to ensure that new IPv6-based networks do not remain isolated.
A technical solution is therefore required to involve special tunneling between the two types of networks, something that is likely to cause more complex routing on the Internet.
Given the complexity of the transition to IPv6, it is alleged that developing countries may benefit from the delayed start and the possibility of introducing IPv6-based networks from the beginning.
Apart from the problem of transition, the policy framework for IPv6 distribution will require a proper distribution of IP numbers, demanding the introduction of open and competitive mechanisms to address the needs of end-users in the most optimal way.
As IPv4 addresses continue to become scarcer, IPv6 is the only viable option for the Internet’s present and future resilience.
By returning the Internet to an end-to-end model, IPv6 is expected to unleash new opportunities and endless waves of innovation.