Q & A: Should I Care About IPv6?

Q: What’s this IPv6 protocol my hard-core geek friends are talking about? How does it affect my home network?

A: Like the last remnants of Slurpee getting sucked out of a Big Gulp cup by a thirsty high school kid, the current block of IP addresses — the quasi-unique identifiers that make it possible for web-connected devices to chit-chat — could be consumed by humankind’s unrelenting drive to connect every gadget imaginable to the Net.

In fact, we’re just about there: All 4.3 billion IP addresses (the total number of available combinations using a 32-bit IP address) were allocated as of February 2011, when the five regional Internet registries each received a final block of around 16 million addresses. As these addresses get eaten up by new websites and services, the technological world will turn to a system called IPv6.

IPv6 extends the 32-bit IPv4 addressing scheme to a new 128-bit format. This creates a heck of a lot more IP addresses — 4 billion to the fourth power to be exact. This also helps ensure that we won’t run out of IP addresses for computers and other devices — even windshield wipers — for many years.

For the immediate future, websites will use both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to refer to the physical server hosting the information a user seeks. In addition, technologies like network tunneling will allow users to dip their toes into the IPv6 world by converting the additional bits into IPv4 numbers that can be processed by legacy network devices. But tunneling is only a temporary solution: If a website were to toss out its IPv4 address and go totally IPv6, users would have no way to access the site using IPv4-only technology. That wouldn’t be good.

To return to the question of the moment: What do you need to do about IPv6? Well, you might consider preparing yourself for a bigger, brighter Internet. You don’t yet need to break down the doors of your local electronics store to pick up one of D-Link’s numerous IPv6-friendly routers, but there will come a time when rocking an old-school IPv4 router will end in heartbreak. D-Link already offers more than 10 home networking devices that support IPv6. You can probably beat your favorite websites in gearing up for the new protocol and ensure yourself a seamless networking experience for decades to come.

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