About five minutes away from home, you voice-activate your VoIP-based mobile phone, set your house's thermostat to a comfy 68 degrees, and preheat the oven. As you pull into the driveway, the garage door opens automatically; the TV tunes to the ballgame (with the sound muted, just the way you like it).
Making these and other technological marvels possible is IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). Among other things (including improved speed and security), the 128-bit replacement for today's 32-bit IPv4 provides a vast amount (3.4 times 10 to the 38th power) of new IP numbers--a sufficient quantity to give every molecule in every human being on earth its own network address.
We'll certainly need them: By the end of the decade, every new phone, appliance, and consumer electronics device will probably require its own IP address. IPv6necessitates an upgrade of routers and other Internet backbone equipment, which is already under way; we'll start enjoying the technology's benefits over the next four years as it spreads throughout the Internet and to consumer electronics.