The move to IPv6: ensuring continued internet growth

IP – or Internet Protocol – addresses are unique strings of numbers and characters used to identify an internet-connected device on a network – like a laptop, smartphone, smart speaker, etc. IP addresses allow all these devices to be identified and communicate with each other. The most commonly used IP addresses are IPv4 and IPv6, with the former being the older of the two and the latter being the newer and more advanced protocol.

Many experts and news articles warned that, because of the internet’s rapid expansion and the proliferation of internet-connected devices, we were in imminent danger of completely depleting the pool of available IP addresses.

Their predictions came partially true. Indeed, the current (and most widely used) protocol for IP addresses, IPv4, finally exhausted its last unique, unassigned address in Europe and western Asia at the end of 2019 after supporting more than 4.3 billion devices.

This is why the IPv6 protocol was first developed in 1998, and it is slowly being adopted.

What’s the difference between IPv4 and IPv6 protocols? Aside from several performance improvements, the key advantage of IPv6 over IPv4 lies in the length and complexity of the address.

  • The length of an IPv4 address is 32-bit and looks like this:
  • An IPv6 address is 128-bit and looks like this: 2001:db8:3333:4444:CCCC:DDDD:EEEE:FFFF

IPv6 is a far more complex addressing system that – unlike IPv4 – allows for a near-infinite combination of unique IP addresses to be created. In addition to this, IPv6 has a simplified header structure which can reduce processing overhead on routers and improve network performance, and it also includes built-in support for IPsec that improves network security. Additionally, IPv6 allows for auto-configuration, better QoS support and multicast support, which simplifies network deployment and prioritises traffic for critical applications and services.

For more information on IPv6, see RIPE NCC (the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for greater Europe and western Asia)'s basic training courses on IPv6.