The standardization group IANA (or the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), which collaborates with IETF (also known as the Internet Engineering Task Force), had long ago already prepared the new standard, IPv6, which goes from the 32 bits of IPv4 to 128 bits.
If you want to know how many addresses that is, don’t try using your calculator; it may go up in smoke! Why, you ask? Well, that number is 2 to the power of 128 OR 3.4 x 10 to the power of 38 OR, get this, 340 undecillions (or sextillions). To understand its magnitude, let’s just say there aren’t enough stars in the universe to total that number!
Consequently, we hope, there’ll be enough IP addresses to go around for the next few decades; every device will have its own IP address, and we won’t run the risk of depleting the IP address bank any time soon – certainly not within my lifetime.
We’ll also no longer have need of private IP addresses; a point which certain pundits believe is a positive thing. I could write a whole new blog post on this subject but for now, suffice to say I disagree. I don’t think you should have a different mailing address for every room in your house – that, in my view, is information regurgitation, which, in a world like the Internet, can be potentially so incredibly dangerous for your computers.
This year, the IPv4 address space has been officially declared exhausted – there aren’t any more IPv4 IP addresses to be assigned from IANA to the five regional internet registries, or RIRs. As a customer, you may be able to get an IPv4 for some time, for as long as your ISPs still have them, that is.
Think of them like phone numbers in that you may get a recycled one; an IP previously belonging to another company that no longer needs/wants it. So hold off on pressing the panic button for now because IPv4 IPs will still be around for a little longer but be prepared to face reality, because soon enough, they’ll be gone for good and IPv6 will be the order of the day.
Those of us who already have IPv4 IPs will be able to keep and continue using them. In the interim, though, ISPs will begin to also assign IPv6 IP addresses and slowly but surely start migrating everyone to this new address space.
This will happen simply because they can’t afford to maintain the double standard for too long – it’s expensive; requires double equipments; and creates too many complications (for which we’ll eventually end up paying and in real dollars).
Truth be told, I don’t know how long this process will take; for all we know, it might spread across decades. We just know, with utter certainty that it will happen. We also know for a fact that your equipment must be able to deal with both protocols concurrently but here’s the kicker – they are completely incompatible.
If your equipment is not designed to handle IPv6, it simply won’t understand it, period!
Pierluigi Stella is chief technology officer at Network Box USA in Houston, Texas.