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What is IPv6 and why do I need it?

World IPv6 Day kicks off today and (for the industry at least) it’s a landmark day. In a nutshell, websites switching to IPv6 means that there’ll be more IP addresses available. Loads more.

Much like when UK phone numbers gained an extra digit in the Nineties, there needs to be more IP addresses to stop the internet running out of space.

The current standard IPv4 was published in 1981 when there were some 200 sites on the net. In 2002, according to Cisco, the number of web users worldwide had climbed to 613 million with 2.5 billion of a total 4.3 billion assigned IPv4 addresses.

Last February, the Internet Assisted Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned the last blocks of IPv4 addresses. The internet is running out of space and we’ll need to migrate to IPv6 for new sites to flourish. Who, back in 1981, thought there’d be 2 billion sites let alone the need for more?

IPv6 will basically allow for 340 undecillion addresses. That’s not a number made up by the Avatar scriptwriters. It’s essentially 340 trillion groups of one trillion networks each, with each network capable of handling a trillion devices. 340 trillion trillion trillion.

We feel that if Professor Brian Cox said ‘340 trillion trillion trillion’ it’d somehow be more palatable.

What else will IPv6 do?

Under IPv6, every machine will have an IP address. With IPv4, every machine, laptop, desktop and printer connected to your home’s internet address will have that same external address. Unique static IP addresses could in theory be used to track a single device’s internet activity. 

While is of obvious concern to anyone using the web for political or social reasons (or for whatever reason) you can enable privacy extensions to make it harder to track internet activity. These essentially mask a portion of an IP address, making it harder for anyone watching to determine who is looking at what at a particular address.

IPv4 and IPv6 are also not interoperable. So with the take up of IPv6, ISPs and hosting services are essentially creating a parallel version of the internet.

Will I still be able to access the net with IPv6?

Yes. There’s not much that you’ll need to do other than sit back and wait for the rollout to happen. There are a couple of things you may need to keep in mind however…

Will I need a new router with IPv6?

Some older routers won’t be set up for IPv6, meaning you may have to shell out for a new one or ask your ISP to see if they’ll bung in a free upgrade. When we spoke to BT and Virgin Media they weren’t totally clear whether existing equipment would work with IPv6. However as the transition to IPv6 won’t happen overnight, there’s no immediate rush for you to get IPv6-compatible hardware.

BT told us that it “has been planning for the introduction of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) for some time now. We already serve customers with IPv6 on our global internet backbone. We have a large IPv6 address block allocation and are planning to further enable the network with IPv6 capability during 2012 working alongside existing IPv4 (referred to as “dual stack”).

What is IPv6 and why do I need it?

IPv6 won’t happen overnight – content on the internet will continue to be served using IPv4, and a lot of customer’s equipment will be IPv4. Gradually customer equipment and content will move to IPv6 but the transition may take a decade or more.”

On the exchange-side of things, BT has said that “Much of BT’s 21CN [BT’s ADSL2+ network] equipment is already IPv6 ready. We just need to turn it on when the time is right; that is when there is clear customer and industry demand.”

So if you get your broadband from an ISP which uses BT’s network, chances are that you can expect IPv6 rollout at some point.

Likewise, Virgin Media is making preparations for IPv6 on its cable network. A spokesperson said:

“As part of our progress towards rolling out IPv6, we have upgraded our network to support IPv6 traffic and we’re currently assessing what changes may need to be made to fully support IPv6 in the home. In the meantime, we have enough IPv4 addresses in reserve to satisfy demand for the foreseeable future and we will be supporting IPv4/IPv6 in parallel until a full IPv6 service is complete.”

What is IPv6 and why do I need it?

IPv6: Will I need to upgrade my PC or Mac?

If you’ve got an older machine kicking about then you may need to do a bit of tinkering in order to get it to work. Windows XP for example supports IPv6, but you need to enable it. Microsoft’s posted instructions on how to do it here. For those of you with Windows Vista and Windows 7 machines, go here.

Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) and above are automatically set up to work with IPv6. However if you want to manually configure your Apple machine for IPv6 here’s Apple’s how-to.

For more information on Wolrd IPv6 Day and IPv6, go here.