Did you know IPv6—the latest Internet Protocol system—was created back in 1998? More than 20 years later, much of the world is still leaning on IPv4, its predecessor. But the migration to IPv6 is picking up, with experts estimating the transition may be complete by 2030.
Here’s everything you need to know about IPv6, and what you may need to consider before making the transition.
What is IPv6?
Internet Protocols are the “street addresses” of internet-connected devices, and necessary for internet communication to work. IPv4—still largely in use today—can support up to 4.3 billion devices using a 32-bit addressing scheme.
That may have seemed like enough then, but even in 1998, the Internet Engineering Task Force saw the need for more IP addresses and developed IPv6 in response. Since then, we’ve seen a rise of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, smartphones, and internet use in general, making it even more critical to switch to IPv6, which has much more capacity.
IPv6 uses 128-bit addressing to support 340 undecillion IP addresses, or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. This means it can accommodate an almost unlimited number of unique IP addresses. Here’s what that looks like compared to IPv4:
- IPv4 addresses use four sets of one-to three-digit numbers. For example: 220.127.116.11
- IPv6 addresses use eight groups of four hexadecimal digits, separated by colons. For example: 2620:cc:8000:1c82:544c:cc2e:f2fa:5a9b
Why make the switch to IPv6?
Increased IP address capacity is just one advantage of this next-generation protocol. Here are a few other reasons to make the transition:
- Stronger data security and privacy: IP Security is embedded to boost encryption and enables more secure data transfer between hosts.
- Faster and more reliable: IPv4 supports broadcast; IPv6 supports multicast. This means bandwidth-intensive packet flows, such as multimedia streams, can be sent to multiple hosts at once without burdening every host on the network.
- Reliability & efficiency: By making routing tables more hierarchical, IPv6 allows ISPs to reduce the size of routing tables, making it more efficient.
- Native support for mobile devices: IPv6 enables mobile devices to switch networks regardless of physical location.
- Auto-configuration: IPv6 devices can independently configure themselves when connected with another IPv6 device—which can greatly benefit network administrators.
Adoption challenges and timelines
IPv6 has existed since 1998—so why are we still using IPv4? The short answer is, it’s complicated. Many current routers and servers in use today still don’t support IPv6. With no hard deadline as to when IPv4 will cease working, there isn’t an urgent incentive to take on the time and expense of the transition.
As of March 2022, IPv6 has been adopted by about 34% of ISPs globally, and 46% in the U.S. Still, there are a number of advantages beyond increased IP address capacity that will encourage a slow, steady transition to this next-generation protocol. As consumers upgrade their equipment for IPv6-compatible devices and web and app providers increasingly support IPv6, there will be stronger and stronger incentives for ISPs and businesses to make the switch, and IPv4 will become a thing of the past.
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