Thursday (7 June) was Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) Launch Day, launching the latest version of the Internet.
But, what is an Internet Protocol (IP), and why is a new one required?
Essentially, an IP is something similar to a street/postal address but for devices that use the Internet: each device, be it a computer, a tablet or an ebook reader, has a unique numerical label that identifies it, and without it that device cannot access any web content, download any web-based video, or communicate with any other device via the Internet. To reuse the postal address analogy, you would not receive any letters to your house if it were not correctly numbered or named – no one would know where to send them.
Why is a new version required?
With the exponential growth of Internet users, and the explosive proliferation of internet-ready devices – particularly tablets and smartphones – the current internet version is close to running out of unique numerical labels, in the same way that a telephone network can run out of unique phone numbers if there are not enough digits assigned.
It is highly unlikely that IPv6 will run out of unique numerical combinations in the near future: the Internet we've relied on to date - we are currently on IPv4 - has space for about 4.3bn IPs. The new, larger IPv6 expands the limit to more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion.
Despite the fact that most of the larger internet providers – Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc.- have been IPv6-enabled for some time, it is expected that users’ full migration to the new version will be gradual. It is not a straightforward switch: businesses would have to take a full inventory of their current IT systems, there will be cost involved, and from a different point of view, there are bandwith issues involved, so political/regulatory factors will also come in to play.
For those who might be curious as to the fate of IPv5 – it was the name given to a rudimentary Internet version in the 1970s that was created for the experimental transmission of voice, video, and distributed simulation.