Why the Internet needs IPv6

The explosive growth of Internet users, devices, and apps is creating demand for more IP addresses

Why do we need IPv6?

In a word: Growth. The number of Internet-connected users, devices and applications are growing at such a rapid clip that the pool of available addresses for the original version of the Internet Protocol, known as IPv4, is being rapidly depleted. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. The replacement protocol, called IPv6, uses 128-bit addresses and provides such a vast number of addresses that it can only be expressed mathematically: 3.4 x 10 to the 38th power. A few skeptics question the need for IPv6. But most Internet policymakers and network technology experts assert that the shift to IPv6 is inevitable, and the time to move is now.

How much IPv4 space is left?

IPv4 addresses are doled out to network operators by the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). In January 2011, the free pool of IPv4 addresses that were available to the RIRs ran out. Three months later, APNIC, the RIR in Asia, depleted all but a small pool of IPv4 addresses that it is holding in reserve for start-ups.

What about allocated-but-unused IPv4 addresses?

A statistic touted by IPv6 naysayers is the amount of IPv4 address space that is allocated but unused, which is estimated at 1.2 billion IPv4 addresses by Addrex. These unused IPv4 addresses belong to U.S. government agencies, universities and companies involved in the original network research that led to the Internet. Companies like Addrex facilitate the sale of unused IPv4 addresses to service providers to extend the life of IPv4. Here is a list of lucky U.S. organizations with /8 blocks of IPv4 addresses, which have 16.7 million IPv4 addresses each and are worth $500 million or more on the resale market, Addrex says:

--General Electric, MIT, IBM, MERIT Network (Michigan universities), Xerox, Prudential Insurance Co., Eli Lilly & Co., Halliburton Co., Ford Motor Co., DuPont

How many Internet users are there globally?

When explaining the inevitability of IPv6, proponents point out that IPv4 has 4.3 billion addresses but the world population exceeds 7 billion. The logic goes that at some point we will run out of IPv4 addresses if everyone on the planet is going to get connected to the ‘Net. Even today, with more than 2 billion Internet users worldwide, the Internet has reached just 32% penetration.

How fast is Internet usage growing?

Although it was created by U.S. researchers more than 40 years ago, the Internet began to take off in terms of popularity starting in 1995. Since then, it’s grown from 16 million users to 2.2 billion users – a more than 100-fold increase. And it shows no signs of slowing down, adding more than 200 million new users in one year from September 2010 to September 2011.

Who is using Facebook?

Like the Internet itself, Facebook has experienced unprecedented growth in the eight years since it was created by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and three of his friends to make it easier to connect with other co-eds. The first ubiquitous social media site, Facebook has been adding 200 million users each year for the last several years.

How many Twitter users are there?

Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has altered the way millions of Internet users communicate with each other by introducing 140-character microblogs called tweets. Twitter has become a favored channel for celebrities to communicate directly with their followers, sports fans to gloat over the latest scores, and disaffected citizens to coordinate protests. When Beyonce announced her pregnancy at the Video Music Awards in 2011, she prompted a record-breaking 8,868 tweets per second! The number of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has quadrupled over the past 18 months, from 2% to 8%, according to a Pew Study released in May 2012.

How many computers are connected to the Internet?

According to a long-running survey by the Internet Systems Consortium, 900 million active hosts are connected to the Internet. This survey measures active domains on the Internet; in other words, the number of DNS servers connected to the Internet. To indicate just how quickly the Internet is growing, the number of Internet-connected hosts doubled in the five years from January 2007 to January 2012.

How many smartphones are in use?

With iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices all the rage, sales of smartphones are on the rise globally – but they still have a long way to go before they surpass sales of regular mobile phones. Smartphone sales reached 472 million in 2011, up 58% from 2012, according to Gartner. But smartphones continue to lag overall mobile phone sales, which Gartner says hit 1.8 billion. As of November 2011, smartphones accounted for just 27% of all mobile phones in use worldwide, according to a study by Vision Mobile.

How many apps are being downloaded?

Apple’s iTunes App Store has been a tremendous hit, reaching a milestone of 10,000 downloadable applications in the fall of 2008 – just three months after its introduction. Three years later, in July 2011, over 15 billion apps had been downloaded, Apple said. Today, the App Store has more than 500,000 active applications available for download.

How many e-books are being read?

Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, but it wasn’t until Christmas 2011 that sales of e-readers and tablets began to soar. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple all reported huge increases in sales of digital reading devices during the 2011 holiday season. Apple sold 15 million iPads in the last three months of 2011, and Amazon sold more than 1 million Kindles each week in December 2011. A Pew study reported that the number of Americans who owned one of these devices nearly doubled from 10% to 19% between December 2011 and January 2012. In the United States alone, e-book sales rose 177% in 2011, generating revenue of nearly $1 billion.

What will the Internet look like in 2015?

Even as the Internet gets more social and mobile, it is showing no signs of slowing down. This continuous growth is what motivates Internet policymakers, network vendors and Web site operators such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo to deploy IPv6.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors