Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the latest Internet protocol which has been mainly devised to cope with the anticipated problem of IPv4 address exhaustion. IPv6 is positioned to replace IPv4. Though IPv4 offered about 4.3 billion addresses which might seem sufficient, a tremendous increase in the number of devices and their demand for addresses is taking the world at risk. It is when IPv6 is taking over and helping in overcoming the limitations of IPv4.

What is IPv6?

IPv6 is the future of the internet. It is not an option but an absolute necessity. It is the successor of IPv4.

It is an internet layer protocol for packet switching internetworking. It also allows end-to-end datagram transmission across multiple IP networks, much like IPv4. In other words, it enables data communication over a packet switched network.

Packet switching involves an exchange of data in packets between two nodes in a network. The basic framework was designed by IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). The IETF specification for IPv6 is RFC 2460.

It is also called “next generation” because of its extended features and growth through recent large scale deployment. In 2004, Japan and Korea were acknowledged as having the first public deployments of IPv6.

Different limitations of IPv4 led to the dawn of IPv6.

Why IPv6 came into existence? – Drawbacks of IPv4

IPv4 was the most popular IP used to connect devices to the internet. It used a 32-bit address scheme with a maximum of 4.3 billion available addresses. But it has certain limitations.

  • Insufficient IP address space
  • Address prefix allocation
  • Data security

With an increase in the number of devices demanding IP address, the address space provided by IPv4 neared exhaustion in 2013.  2^32 addresses were just insufficient to deal with this augmenting demand.

All these factors eventually led to the evolution of IPv6 in 2013.

What are the features of IPv6?

It is a network layer protocol and comes with similar features of IPv4 with some additional characteristics. It is also known as Internet Protocol Next Generation (IPng).

The characteristics of IPv6 are as follows

Scalability

IPv6 offers a 128-bit address scheme which increases the number of addresses available. Hence, it is a savior for the world in allotting each device a serial number.

With a report stating that about 4.9 billion devices were connected to the internet and estimating that it will be about 25 billion by 2020, the importance of IPv6 and its trillions of addresses blossom very well.

End to end connectivity

IPv6 excludes the need for Network Address Translation. It encourages better connectivity in peer to peer networks.

Built-in security

IPv6 can run end-to-end encryption. It also provides more secure name resolution. It is done with the help of the SEND (Secure Neighbour Discovery) protocol which decreases the chances of attacks like ARP poisoning, etc.

Here, the representation of the address is in hexadecimal format separated by a colon. For example

3fff:1900:4545:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf

When will IPv4 completely deplete?

The last blocks of IPv4 have been allotted to the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) and have by now, either exhausted or on the extreme verge of depletion. Some existing blocks might be recovered for allocation.

But this way will not be capable of expanding the growing needs of address space.

The devices and networks connected to the internet using IPv4 will continue to work in the same way as they used to. Ipv4 and IPv6 will coexist.

But a switch to IPv6-only services will decrease the network burden as IPv4 will be no longer there.

Has IPv6 been embraced worldwide?

Deployment of IPv6 has been progressing since the middle of the 2000s. Since 1982, IPv4 was in fashion, and it is nearing the depletion of its address space. It carries the majority of internet traffic.

Statistics from 2013 and 2016

2013

It is hard for any organization to quickly change from IPv4 to IPv6 as it requires a lot of administration. In 2013, statistics show that IPv6 was available to only 20% of its users.

Its adoption is uneven and irregular over the countries.

2016

A report says that about 98.2% of the top level domains supported IPv6 to access their DNS. 97.8% zones had IPv6 glue records. About 4.6% of domains had IPv6 address records in their zones.

Current scenario of IPv6 in the market

Almost all major operating systems like Mac, Windows, Linux, Android support IPv6.  More and more end-to-end software are IPv6-ready. Some products and services may still not be available with IPv6 compatibility.

It is advisable to consult with vendors and their services. Although IPv6 is successfully deployed in the market, its traffic is still much lower compared to IPv4.

Why is the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 so much time taking?

Understanding the current scenario of growing amount of devices connecting to the internet and their demand for IP addresses, one thing is clear. That is, the conversion to IPv6 is inevitable.

But the entire process, though so much essential and highly necessary, takes a lot of time.

Majority of the internet traffic is still due to IPv4. But IPv4 is rapidly pacing towards depletion. Then why is this transition so slow?

The causes why IPv6 transition is slow are

Expensive

To modify the design of an innumerable number of devices (routers & switches) connected to the internet which were meant to work with IPv4 requires both time and money.

There may be still many old home gateways or printer servers who are unaware of IPv6 protocol. As a result, they might face trouble and compatibility issues with IPv6.

Changing core routers hardware for core networks is not a one-day task. It is not a scheduled task done every day. It is highly expensive and requires time and budget to figure out things.

NAT and CIDR

When IPv6 was found initially, it did not offer clear benefits to the vendors or enterprises. It involved some expenditure and provided few services then.

But in the meantime, the introduction of Network Address Translation (NAT) and Classless Internet Domain Routing (CIDR) significantly extended the characteristics of IPv4.

NAT could be implemented with low cost and also provided some underlying security. Hence, the need to upgrade to IPv6 or replace IPv4 again died down for a while.

Will not proceed unless one’s contacts do

IPv4 and IPv6 will coexist for sometime in the future due to compatibility issues. Thus, it requires higher maintenance costs. As a result, there is the tendency that people will only switch over when their acquaintances do.

We are talking about IPv4 and IPv6. Where is IPv5?

Version 5 of the IP family was an experimental protocol developed in the 1980s. It was known as the Internet Stream Protocol or IPv5. It was never widely used.

Since the number 5 was already in use, it could not be assigned to the successor version of IPv4. Thus the number 6 was assigned, and IPv6 came into force.

Conclusion

IPv6 is the backbone of next-generation technology. The conversion from IPv4 to IPv6 does not affect the users. They can be tension free about losing connectivity to the internet.

Enterprises and organizations must work upon the translation from IPv4 to IPv6 and get it done as quick as possible. This should be done keeping in mind the advantages of IPv6 concerning scalability, connectivity, and security.

IPv6 is the latest Internet protocol to cope up with the running out of ip addresses provided by the older protocol, IPv4. Though migration to IPv6 is essential, do you know why its deployment is taking time?