The current Internet infrastructure is built on an addressing scheme known as IPv4 which in full stands for Internet Protocol version 4. These addresses are assigned to each device that is connected to the Internet be it a mobile phone, tablet, desktop computer, router or server.
The sad news however is that due to the tremendous growth and poor planning the Internet has experienced in the last ten or so years, the available IPv4 addresses are getting depleted. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which is the body responsible for allocating these addresses is on the verge of handling out the last unallocated addresses in the Internet’s IPv4 address space. The IANA is currently down to five unallocated “Class A” blocks of 16 million addresses each; under IANA and ICANN rules, those blocks will now be allocated (one each) to the five Regional Internet Registries (RIR’s)—the African Network Information Center (AfRINIC), the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre (LACNIC), and RIPE NCC (Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre). This means there are effectively no more unassigned Internet addresses available for ISP’s and others to expand the number of machines they have connected to the Internet.
There are about 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses that can be used, these would seem as sufficient considering only about 2 billion people have access to the Internet. The fast depletion of IPv4 addresses was caused by several factors such as:
- Proliferation of mobile devices that can connect to the Internet. One person had several devices connected to the Internet each with its own unique IP address.
- Poor and inefficient use of address blocks by ISP’s and end users due to ad hoc network growth with virtually no planning. There was a time when everyone though the IPv4 space would never get depleted and this made network admins careless.
- “Always on” connections that ‘hoard’ IP addresses even when not in active use.
As it stands, if nothing is done to assign addresses to the millions of new devices that need to be connected to the Internet, there will soon be a crisis as users will lack addresses. If a device lacks an address, it cannot connect to the Internet.
A solution to the depletion of IPv4 addresses is to have all users on the Internet adopt the use of IPv6 addressing scheme. (One of my favorite interview questions to would-be network engineers is ask them why we are moving from IPv4 to IPv6 and not IPv5, you should see the puzzled faces). The IPv6 addressing scheme will avail slightly over 340 trillion IP addresses for use. To put that into perspective, there will be over 100,000 IP addresses available per square meter of the earths surface including land and sea. That means each and every device today can get an IP address, be it your computer, phone, toaster, wrist watch, fridge, door, water heater, car, alarm clock, oven etc. If devices become IP enabled, this will spawn a new way of doing things. The Internet will no longer be about information but about things.
The Internet of Things
Imagine a world where everything is interconnected. Let us assume you get a meeting invite for tomorrow 7AM. Let us also assume that your usual arrival time to the office is 8:30AM on normal days. The meeting invite lands on your outlook calendar and the following events then happen between the time you receive and accept the invite to the time you eave the meeting:
- Your Outlook notes that your home wake up alarm is usually set to go off at 7:40AM because you normally wake up at that time. Outlook then adjusts your alarm to wake you up at 6:00AM or 6:30AM depending on the predicted traffic conditions and weather tomorrow morning.
- Your alarm notes this change and appropriately adjusts the time your water heating system comes on by making it come on an hour earlier than usual (because this day you will wake up earlier than usual).
- Once the water heater is done heating your water, it alerts the coffee maker to come on and have your coffee ready the minute you come off the bathroom.
- because even your lights have IPv6 addresses, when you switch on your dining room lights after dressing, the lights instruct the toaster to start toasting your bread so that by the time you are done pouring your coffee, the toast is ready.
- You apply the last bit of butter to your toast and throw away the can.
- While having your breakfast, you tune to a radio station on your home audio system. As you leave to your car, your home system communicates with your car and tunes to the exact station you were listening to in the house.
- Based on your meeting location, the car’s GPS system gets the address from your outlook calendar and plots out your travel route based on traffic conditions on the road.
- Assuming you arrive at your meeting and its put off for about 30 minutes due to one reason or the other, you update that on your phone and all your meetings and activities for that day are appropriately adjusted
- Based on your twitter and Facebook statuses in the course of the day, your mood can be predicted and appropriate music played in your car/home to sooth you. If your social media statuses indicate that you have had a long day and are tired, your jacuzzi will note that and have a bubbly indulgence waiting for you the minute you step into your house later in the day.
- However, on your way home as you approach the local supermarket, your car alerts you that you ran out of butter in your house (because the fridge noticed you did not return the butter can into it after your breakfast).
- Your cars GPS directs you to the supermarket parking where there is a free parking slot (because the parking slots also have IP connectivity and can communicate their availability to cars searching for free parking space). You alight and buy your butter then head home.
All this is possible if each and every device on the Internet can get an IPv6 address, this will only be possible through the adoption and use of IPv6. The Internet will no longer be about information and data, it will be about our daily lives.