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Internet Access Limits Approaching Fast: IPv6 to the Rescue!

By Danny Davids(13,494) Danny Davids

Posted Thursday, January 17, 2008
View All Blog Posts submitted by Danny Davids

Enjoying that new computer you just bought, complete with all the latest bells and whistles?  Having fun surfing the Internet, downloading music and playing games and chatting with your friends?  Think you'll be up and running on the Internet for the foreseeable future?  Think again.

The current method used to assign unique addresses to computers accessing the Internet is about to hit its maximum limit, probably within the next two years.  Unless there's a change in the way these IP addresses are assigned (IP stands for Internet Protocol), some folks won't be able to access the 'net because there won't be enough IP addresses to go around.

Without a way to uniquely identify your computer on the Internet, there's no way to guarantee that you'll go where you want to go or do what you want to do.  You could end up receiving data somebody else requested, or they could receive yours.  Issuing each device a unique IP address ensures that data requests go to the correct device.  But with an increasing number of devices needing Internet connectivity, those addresses are going fast.  So what do the computer types suggest?  Change the addressing standard.

The current standard for IP addresses, called IPv4, uses the format, where the range for each number is from 0 to 256.  This gives a total of nearly 4.3 billion unique addresses.  Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?  Except that the world population is over 6 billion people, many of whom utilize the Intenet for various reasons.  Yep, we're getting dangerously close.

A new addressing standard has been waiting in the wings for the past ten years.  Called IPv6, it assigns unique IP addresses to Internet-connected devices using the format 0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000, where the range for each number is from 0 to 65536 (hexadecimal FFFF).  It produces an astonishing 340 undecillion addresses (that's 340 followed by 36 zeroes!).  If you do the math, that works out to...let's see, 34 minus 30...bring down the 1...um...well, let's just say the Internet community won't run out of IP addresses anytime soon.

IPv6 has been around in completed form since 1997.  So why aren't we using it?  Time and money, plain and simple.  Internet Service providers (ISPs) have to change their protocol to allow for the new standard to be accepted.  Computer workstations need an operating system that recognizes the new IP address format.  And initially both address formats will need to be used until everyone is running IPv6.

But the push is on for conversion.  Microsoft has added IPv6 into Vista, its new operating system.  The US government has mandated that its departments utilize IPv6 devices exclusively by this year.  And the increasing popularity of using the Internet to make phone calls (Voice over IP, or VoIP) is driving telecommunications companies to make the switch, since IPv6 handles VoIP much better than IPv4.

What will the impact be on the average user?  Not much.  Even if you're not running Vista, your computer will have received an IPv6-compatible update from Microsoft long before the new standard is in place.  And by the time IPv6 is the only addressing system for the Internet, it's likely you'll have replaced your Internet-connected devices with new ones that are built on the IPv6 standard.

So breathe easy.  You won't lose your Internet connection, and you won't start getting somebody else's data sent to your computer by mistake.  Isn't that a relief?  Now go play Worlds of Warcraft for awhile.  Your character (and your bank account) are safe.

This Blog Post has been read 311 times.
Posted to ProBlogs.com on Thursday, January 17, 2008
View other posts by Danny Davids

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