June 06, 2012, 9:55 PM — Today is the day IPv6 finally goes live. For as long as there has been an Internet IPv4 has been synonymous with IP and nobody really stopped to think about which version of the protocol it was. But, IPv4 has outlived its usefulness.
Researchers saw the writing on the wall, and could predict based on the rate of growth for Internet use and IP-connected devices that IPv4 couldn't last forever. IPv6 has been in development for nearly two decades. Now, the next generation protocol is ready to replace IPv4 and assume its place as the backbone of the Internet.
So, what exactly is IPv6 and what does it mean to you?
Why is IPv6 necessary?
The most obvious answer is that IPv4 is out of IP addresses. IPv4 has only 4.3 billion addresses, and with PCs, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, and just about everything else connecting to the Internet we've tapped the system dry. IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses and is capable of 340 undecillion addresses. That is 340 times 10 to the 36th power, or 340 trillion trillion trillion possible IP addresses.
How is IPv6 different / better than IPv4?
Expanding the pool of IP addresses (putting it mildly) yields some additional benefits as well. Because of the dearth of IPv4 addresses much of the Internet relies on NAT (Network Address Translation). With IPv6 every device can literally have its own unique public IP address.
Most home and small business users really only have one IP address on the Internet--the one assigned to the router that connects them to their ISP. The router in turn issues IP addresses internally to the devices that attach to it, but must constantly keep track of which traffic belongs to which device, and translate the IP address from the internal one to the public one in order to facilitate communications with the Internet.
Tri Nguyen, a representative of ZyXEL, explains, "All devices will be accessible on the public network, making it easier for people to manage things like home automation, file sharing, online gaming, peer-to-peer programs and other applications without complex settings on their router."