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Issue of July 2005 

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IPv6: changing the way networking works

As an addressing scheme, IPv6 has many benefits over IPv4, says Jason Phoon

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way that individuals and businesses operate and communicate. Millions in the developed world have an Internet connection at home, and soon their homes will also contain Internet-enabled appliances. A recent report has indicated that 553 million people are connected to the Internet at home.

The huge growth in the use of the Internet, and the rising number of wireless mobile devices, have led to increased demand for better and faster technology. It has also increased the demand for IP addresses. This is especially true for developing countries where many people are only starting to use the Internet.

Connectionless protocol

IP is known as a connectionless protocol that enables data to be sent from one computer to another in a network with no continuous connection between two communicating devices. Thus, when a message is sent via IP, it is broken up into packets which may travel via a number of different routes to their final destination; on arrival, the packets are reassembled in their original order.

Each device in a network has a unique IP address which is used by the IP protocol to ensure that information packets reach the correct destination.

IP today

Today’s Internet uses IPv4 for the greater part. This is a protocol that’s nearly 20 years old. For a protocol that’s long in the tooth, IPv4’s resilience is nothing short of remarkable. That said, the protocol is becoming complex and expensive to manage, largely on account of the Internet’s skyrocketing growth. Worse, there is a growing shortage of IPv4 addresses which are needed by new machines being added to the Internet.

All used up

It is estimated that the existing pool of IPv4 addresses will be saturated between 2008 and 2010. Two-thirds of IPv4 addresses have already been taken up, mostly in the US. In countries where the allocations are small, such as in Asia, Network Translation Addresses is used to support Internet traffic by using a range of private IP addresses behind a public IP address.

Such depletion has been the primary driver behind the need for IPv6. It is also being driven by the demand for wireless devices, which, because they access the Internet, require their own IP addresses. The explosion in the use of handheld wireless devices is evidenced by their predicted shipment numbers, which is expected to grow from 430 million in 2002 to 760 million in 2006. Mobile Internet users are expected to exceed 1.2 billion before the end of the decade.

IPv6 is in

IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet Protocol, and is sometimes also known as IPng (IP next generation). Designed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), IPv6 fixes a number of problems in IPv4 such as the limited number of available addresses. One of the key features of IPv6 is that it expands the address space from the current 32 to 128 bits, exponentially increasing the number of available IP addresses with more levels of addressing hierarchy. This expands the address space from around 4 billion addresses to an astronomical 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses (340 x 1036).

The commercial opportunities that IPv6 provides vis-a-vis wireless devices, peer-to-peer networking, and smart homes are driving the move to this technology. (The wireless market requires low-latency, always-on, auto-roaming, always-reachable IP services.)

Peer-to-peer networking enables a group of computers to communicate directly with each other rather than through a central server in order to avoid the expense and delay of handling all the traffic on a server. Peer-to-peer networking is used for multiplayer online games, IP-telephony, video-conferencing and new business models similar to Napster. In addition, other commercial opportunities for ‘smart home’ products such as Internet-enabled automobiles, security systems and kitchen appliances are also pushing the transition to IPv6.

What’s new in IPv6

The protocol adds many improvements to IPv4 in areas such as routing and network auto-configuration. A provision is included to allow easier auto-configuration of hosts and re-numbering of the IP addresses in networks and sub-networks as needed without the need for manual configuration or DHCP.

IPv6 improves scalability of multicast routing by adding a ‘scope’ field to multicast addresses. It also offers a new type of address, the ‘anycast addressing’ which improves the support for multicasting. This new kind of addressing basically says, “deliver this message to the easiest-to-reach member of this group,” and potentially enables new types of messaging functionality.

The new IP datagram format has been redefined and given new capabilities. The main header of each IP datagram has been streamlined, and support added for easily extending the header for datagrams requiring more control information. IPv6 datagrams include QoS features, allowing better support for multimedia and other applications requiring QoS. Security support is designed into IPv6 using the authentication and encryption extension headers and other features.

The way that fragmentation and reassembly of datagrams works has been changed in IPv6 to improve efficiency of routing and better reflect the realities of today’s networks. The IPv6 protocol is designed to support modern routing systems, and to allow expansion as the Internet grows.

Country or Region
IPv6 Address in %
From 20 Aug 2003
2 Sept 2004 IPv6 Growth
72 (41.14%)
31 (17.71%)
16 (9.14%)
14 (8.00%)
7 (4.00%)
5 (2.86%)
5 (2.86%)
5 (2.86%)
5 (2.86%)
4 (2.29%)
Hong Kong
3 (1.71%)
2 (1.14%)
2 (1.14%)
New Zealand
2 (1.14%)
Papua New Guinea
1 (0.57%)
1 (0.57%)
Reference: @ APNIC 2004-11-02

IPv6 deployment

The deployment will be gradual over several years as it is not possible to throw out decades of investment overnight. The IETF has specified a wide range of transition mechanisms to allow IPv6 networks to co-exist with IPv4 networks. They are:

Dual stacking—this is the most basic mechanism and relies on all the network nodes running both IPv4 and IPv6 protocol stacks simultaneously.

Tunnelling—these mechanisms provide a means to interconnect IPv6 islands across intervening IPv4 networks, where the IPv4 network acts purely as a transport medium.

IPv6 deployments have begun. Core IPv6 standards are agreed upon through the IPv6 Forum ( Commercial IPv6 networks are in place today, and major networking hardware and software vendors support IPv6 in their gear.

There is a high probability of large scale IPv6 deployment within two to three years due to 3G service address architecture, 3G service growth, and broadband adoption. In addition, the governments of Japan and Korea are providing significant financial and policy support for IPv6. China’s economic and demographic situation will cause it to follow suit in the near future, and Europe too has seen considerable investment from both private and public sectors in IPv6 technology.

In this region, Japan leads in IPv6 adoption, and it is deploying the protocol in live networks such as the Japan Medical IPv6 Test Bed, the Sapporo Snow Festival IPv6 Network for remote video broadcast, and the Kurashiki City IPv6 metro-broadband network.

The pervasiveness and development of the Internet, coupled with the emergence of mobile connectivity devices, is a phenomenon that has revolutionised communication. IPv6 as an emerging technology will change the way networking works, and will become the standard on which networking, the Internet and communication will rest.

Jason Phoon is Senior Manager for Product Marketing with Allied Telesyn

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