Understanding IPv6 - a Billion Billion IP Addresses for Every Square Millimeter of the Earth’s Surface

Internet Service Providers have been investing a lot of time and resources to configure their networks for IPv6 adoption.  Currently the IP addressing scheme used for the Internet today is called IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4). An IP address is similar to your phone number, in that it represents your computer address and how to get data to and from your computer and other IP-based networks such as the Internet. However, as we have seen in the industry with phone numbers, the available IP Addresses are running out as more devices become IP-Based.

Several years back, IP Engineers worldwide noted that we will be running out of IP space due to misappropriation of addresses. A fix needed to happen right away and a temporary solution was put in place to hide the IP assignment of a majority of address by using what is called Network Address Translation (NAT), while research went into what today is known as IPv6. NAT is similar to having extensions rather than 10-digit phone number behind a phone system.  This temporary solution has helped the Internet community get by for roughly about 15 years.

The IPv4 supply chain is quite complex - the central address registrar of the Internet allocates IPv4 addresses to regional registrars, who, in turn, allocate addresses to national registrars, who allocate addresses to Internet Service Providers, who then allocate addresses to their customers (consumers and enterprises). Now in 2011, the number of IP addresses available is quickly diminishing and estimates are saying that by mid 2012, the last of the remaining pool of addresses will be handed out to end users. These assessments change on a daily basis and are dependent on each provider and how they allocate IP’s.  Because of the increased use of date equipment (Smart phones, Tablets, DSL, Cable modems, etc) IP assignments have been increasing due to all of the devices that are accessible to the Internet. This is one of many reasons for the development of an IP addressing scheme that can handle more assignments.

The IPv6 Solution

To put it in perspective, IPv4 contains 4.3 billion IP addresses, but because of routing and networking configurations the ability to actually assign a single IP address to every element is impossible. A good portion of the addresses are wasted due to poor design and routing restrictions. IPv6 can assign 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses.  Or put another way, there’s the potential to assign a billion billion IP addresses for every square millimeter of the Earth’s surface.  Clearly, we don’t expect to run out of IPv6 addresses anytime soon.