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The Internet of Things: A Beginner’s Guide To IPv6
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The Internet of Things: A Beginner’s Guide To IPv6 - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: A Beginner’s Guide To IPv6

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: A Beginner’s Guide To IPv6

Everything connected to the internet has an address, allowing one device to reach another device on the network. Your printer, smartphone, laptop, router, and smart TV each have unique addresses, as do the server at your internet service provider that allows your personal network to connect to the rest of the world and the web servers that host each website you visit. This address is called an IP address (IP stands for Internet Protocol) and usually looks something like 10.255.1.10. Four numbers ranging from 0 to 255, separated by periods.

You can see how the Internet of Things presents a little problem here. This address system (called IPv4, or the fourth version of the Internet Protocol) maxes out at just under 4.3 billion addresses, far too few as our world grows more and more connected. In preparation for this problem, a new address system, IPv6, was introduced in the mid-1990s. What follows is a gross simplification of the IPv6 concept and execution, but it will give an amateur at least a starting point for understanding how the “things” in the Internet of Things will relate to each other.

Unless you’re kind of crazy (or unless you’re a mischievous high-schooler outsmarting your school’s web filter), when you want to look at a website, you type the site’s domain name in the address bar of your web browser (Google.com or Yahoo.com, for example). The domain name is not an address, but really the name of what resides at the real address. If you type 207.241.224.2 in the address bar instead, your browser recognizes this as an IP address and takes you to the website hosted there, in this case the Internet Archive at Archive.org. You’ll recognize that the IP address has four numbers separated by periods, making it an IPv4 address. There’s really no good reason to do this except to try it out, so you can remind yourself that the internet is a bunch of machines speaking a machine language to each other.

Where IPv4 addresses are written as four numbers separated by periods, IPv6 addresses are written as eight numbers separated by colons, something like 20:2991:10:9:1511:220:98:57. Already, you can see that the number of possible addresses is far, far greater with this many digits. In addition to the extra four numbers, each number can be four digits in length, rather than topping out with three digits at 255. Yet the difference is greater even than that: where each digit in the IPv4 address can be anything from 0 to 9, the digits in an IPv6 address can go from 0 to F (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F), a number system called hexadecimal. So your IPv6 address is more likely to look like 20:43F:

The result is a mind-blowing number of possible addresses. You already know that a billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion, and a quadrillion is a thousand trillion. The next levels in this naming system are quintillion (a thousand quadrillion), sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion, and undecillion. IPv6 has a theoretical capacity of 340 undecillion addresses, or 340 thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand billion addresses. Written in numerical form, it looks like 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,770,000,000 addresses.

Problem solved, right? Not exactly. Although this new address system has been rolling out for about ten years, web browsers and internet service providers are still being configured to access it. There are strategies in place until the world is fully aboard IPv6, including websites having both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, but there are also servers that only have IPv6 addresses, and unless your service provider is set up for it, you won’t be able to see them. You can see whether or not you’re set up for IPv6 by pointing your browser to ipinfo.info/html/ip_checker.php, which will run a few tests and explain what kind of access you have.

If nothing else, this basic understanding of the IPv6 system gives you a grasp on the projected magnitude of the Internet of Things, with just one tiny bit of the complexity involved in getting you and your neighbors from a few mobile devices connected to your home wifi to the much broader, more IoT existences of smart cities and smart homes.

 

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The Internet of Things: A Beginner’s Guide To IPv6 - Executive Leadership Articles

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