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Are you ready for IPv6? 

Summary: Things are changing on the Internet. They're always changing, but now the actual fabric of the underlying technology - how your data gets from one point to another - is changing.  

The current protocol used for sending data around the Internet, known as IPv4, provides the familiar IP addreses such as 192.150.122.23.  Every device (or 'endpoint') on the Internet has an IP address but we've run out of space.  All of the possible addresses from those four numbers have been allocated and in order to allow for continued exponential growth of the Internet as well as the unhindered deployment of new services, its replacement must be deployed.

Enter IPv6.  It has been around for some time to ensure that your network infrastructure is ready and able to support it.  IPv4 won't be switched off, but all existing services and many new services will become available on IPv6, so your network needs to support it. 

 

Why is IPv4 no longer adequate ?

Every device on the Internet and every other network connected device has an IP address. That address distinguishes it from other devices on the same network (like door numbers on houses in a street) so that each device can send data and, of course, data can be sent back to it. This includes PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, games consoles, printers - anything which you connect to your IP network or the Internet needs its own IP address. With today's proliferation of IP-connected devices, that's now billions of devices.

 

The current system for IP addresses, called IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) gives you the familiar addresses like 212.194.171.114, but that address format/length is 'hard-coded' into the protocol and there is a limit to how many unique addresses it provides - that number is approximately 4 billion, and there are already more than 4 billion devices connected to the Internet (every PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone etc.).   By the use of systems like NAT we have been able to 'share' one address amongst many users, but these kludges have downsides and side effects.  Additionally, when IPv4 was designed, no-one predicted its modern-day application and mass usage. The protocol is just no longer 'fit for purpose'.

 

So, here's IPv6!

As you will have guessed by now, the primary purpose of IPv6 is, quite simply, to provide more IP addresses. In fact, IPv6 could provide up to 340 trillion trillion trillion unique IP addresses - that will keep us going for a while!.   IPv6 can support all regular Internet services (web, video/multimedia, FTP, VoIP etc.). From a user's point of view, he or she would not notice any difference. Although we're not going to get too technical here and without wishing to scare you, instead of the relatively short IPv4 addresses you're familar with, an IPv6 address looks like this:

2001:0db8:16ae:00a7:005a:0002:1e34:0056

 

IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4 which means that it has to run in parallel with IPv4, until such a time when every web service, ISP and device supports IPv6, and then IPv4 services can be switched off (that is expected to be a long time away because there are some legacy systems which are very old, but stable and will never be upgraded).  

Networking Hardware Support

Your router is the key component in any IPv6 implementation. It not only provides the gateway onto the Internet, it provides the local information required by devices on your LAN to configure themselves.  DrayTek have been at the forefront of IPv6 support in their routers. All current DrayTek routers support IPv6 (in native or tunnelled mode - see later), and IPv6 can be added to many of our previous models by downloading updated firmware, free of charge.

Client Device & O/S Support

All modern operating systems (including Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS) support IPv6 out of the box and can operate IPv6 in parallel with IPv4.  In practice, once you have made IPv6 available to your network, it will use IPv6 when available (i.e. when the service requested responds to an IPv6 request) otherwise automatically falling back to IPv4.

ISP Support 

Your ISPs are also key in a full end-to-end IPv6 implementation. That includes both your hosting ISP (the company running your company web site or cloud services) and the ISP who provides your physical connectivity (DSL, EFM etc.). Both of those service provides need to provide IPv6 support. Many already do and you can ask your existing provides when they will add IPv6 support to their servers and infrastructure.  Similarly, when selecting a new supplier, ask whether they support IPv6 or what their timescales are for doing so.

If your current connectivity ISP does not support IPv6, there are service providers on the Internet who can probide you with IPv6 connectivity in the meantime. These providers (known as 'tunnel brokers') are able to provide you with IPv6 service by tunnelling it through your existing IPv4-only connection.  Once set up, this can be handled automatically by your router (all new DrayTek models support IPv6 tunnelling as well as native IPv6) so from your device's point of view (PC etc.), you have a fully functional IPv6 connection.

 

Summary of the main advantages of IPv6

 

1. A vastly increased address space. This is the number 1 advantage and purpose. IPv6 gives us trillions of unique IP addresses so that every device connected to a network or the Internet can have its own unique routable IP address. 

2. The removal of the need for NAT or other address sharing mechanisms.  These methods break protocols (in particular multimedia, VoIP and VPNs), requiring complex and often unreliable kludges. The removal of NAT means that routing and traffic flow is far more predictable and reliable.  The intropduction of NAT by ISPs who have run out of IP addresses (so called 'Carrier Grade NAT') will upset even more people by breaking even more services!

3. Flexible subneting. Multiple subnets are considered a luxury on IPv4, and priced by ISPs accordingly. In IPv4, every connected location will have multiple subnets as standard so you are able to adopt a far more logical address plan. This can increase network efficiency and flexibility  as well as making it easier to manage.

4. Address Mobility. Special IP addresses can be allocated which are ISP independent and allow you to retain the same address regardless of location. 

5. An end to fragmentation. All endpoints and transient hops are aware of the lowest MTU so that fragmentation, which can break various protocols and cause problems for others should no longer occur.

5. More efficient routing. The removal of DHCP, NAT, larger maximum datagram sizes, shorter headers and the removal of checksums mean that the overhead on your networking infrastructure and the volume of raw data may be reduced.

 

Further Information

Even if you're not ready to implement or use IPv6 right now, you are hopefully now aware of it and will make sure it's consider in your future networking plans.  To learn more, watch our video or search out the many other online resources.  You may also be interested in our sponsored book Real World IPv6.