The internet was conceived decades ago for U.S. research scientists to communicate with each other. It was an enigma that few would have thought would foster individual participation through social media, increase innovation in human development, and create an information-dependent global economy. While the backbone of the internet was built on Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), there was a finite limit to the number of active devices that could run on IPv4. Gartner Research estimates that there will be 6.4 billion “things” connected to the internet in 2016. That’s exciting, until you realize there are only 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses in the world and we ran out of IP addresses last year.
Users still use the internet to communicate, but it has also become a hub for commerce. Technology has allowed a user to magically be transported to a website that has a sense of who you are and where you came from. E-commerce was built upon the notion that if you want to go somewhere, then you just go without any fees or hassle.
However, with the explosion of people, places, and devices, the e-commerce movement is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. Companies are looking to provide more content for the consumer through a reliance on IoT and other mobile devices, which will lead to more impulse purchases. Organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) understood that to combat this explosion, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) needed to replace IPv4.
How the Internet Works
While the internet just seems to work based on the infrastructure that was created by such players as Cisco, the customer (you) needs to be unique so that different websites can understand who you are and where you are coming from. To create this unique identifier of who you are, every device has to have a unique address that is stored somewhere.
The Internet Protocol (IP) address is used as your unique address so that when an internet services provider (ISP), such as Comcast, wants to understand who you are and where you came from so that they may push you to your final destination, the ISP would use your IP address. The internet has worked for all these years because IPv4 was used as a “phone book” for all the devices that connect to the internet.
Organizations around the world use “phone books” such as the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN). So, for example, if you are a North American organization, you would need ARIN to get a unique IP address. That way when you connect to internet, you have a unique number and no one else gets in your way. Compared to an IPv4 header, which is 32 binary numbers, an IPv6 header is 128 binary numbers. That means we can put information into an IPv6 packet in a way that was never possible with IPv4.
If you haven’t heard of the shift to IPv6, then put simply, IPv6 is potentially the largest technical change project affecting every organization that touches the internet. In today’s world, that seems to be everyone, especially if you use the internet to enhance your sales and marketing efforts. With more devices and a greater need for bandwidth, IPv6 is a necessity for any company that even remotely engages in making money.
The conversion to IPv6 is the direction of growth for the internet but while this public facing connection isn’t something that most organizations have to worry about, it should be an ongoing concern for those companies that use the internet and mobile devices for e-commerce. Yet it seems as though most organizations aren’t raising any alarms as to the impending switch from IPv4 to IPv6. This could be because of a host of reasons — from the fact that this is not an end user issue to the idea that broadband users like Comcast and internet players including Facebook and Google are helping make the switch.
If the internet is your business, if that’s your dependency, then you really should care about whether you are running IPv6. If the internet isn’t your business, no one wants to deal with the work of connecting your customer. According to Google, 12% of global traffic and 28% of domestic traffic is coming through IPv6.
While IPv4 translates into support for about 4 billion devices, this is not enough for everyone on the planet, let alone enough for all the devices in the world. The IETF realized in 1990’s that the growth of the internet would be so fast that IPv4 wasn’t going to be around too long. To stave off the inevitable, they did two things: First, they started handing out classes of IP addresses to organizations through Network Address Translation (NAT), which was able to give longer legs to IPv4 and later refined classes of IP by introducing Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR), also know as “slash notation”, so that address blocks didn’t run out of space.
IPv6 has been around for a long time so the IETF started by making the transition to IPv6. While it’s been through a few versions, the final version that was standardized and deployed in operating systems and backbone routers was released in 1999. Although, 20 years is a long time to have this standard in place, this enormous lead time was needed to ensure that the functionality would work when ready. The switch to IPv6 will help the public enjoy a level of convenience by letting customers shop from the convenience of their own homes.
The public internet as we know it is switching to IPv6. With the rise of the IoT movement and the advent of new devices (mobile, tablet, watches, etc.), IPv6 will need to be in place to handle the influx of devices.
As we begin moving to a world where IPv6 replaces IPv4, we can be even more creative about how the IoT functions and reap even greater performance and functional benefits. E-commerce sales in the U.S. eclipsed $97 billion during the second quarter of 2016, which marked almost nearly 16% year-over-year (YoY) growth, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Add to this the fact that nearly one of every two dollars spent online will come from online purchases made using a mobile device by 2020. This will be fueled by contextual shopping, a mobile first mentality, and increasing reliance on mobile devices. There is still even more room to grow with IoT.
However, IPv6 is far more than “more addresses.”
IPv6 addresses helps the network to become “smarter,” so that they play a more active role in determining a device’s path through the network. Back to the IoT example, rather than relying on complex network machines to make all the routing decisions associated with a packet, applications themselves will be able to choose paths and services in the network.
Adopting IPv6 opens up some interesting possibilities.
However you connect with your customers, your organization’s website is being accessed by IPv6 devices. Network engineers realized early on with IPv6 is that the larger size of IPv6 addresses opens up some interesting possibilities. Not adopting IPv6 in 2016 carries several risks, including limiting creativity and productivity by hindering the expansion of the internet within organizations. This year will be a landmark year in IPv6 adoption, and it is time for businesses to get on board.
IPv6 will radically changing the way the consumer shops. The coming ubiquity if IPv6 will help with the seamless tracking that big data has started to offer to provide a more holistic shopping experience both virtually through websites and in-person through IoT. E-commerce continues to grow through the increasing usage of mobile applications and penetration of IoT so smart retail environment will ensure the consumer gets deeper information for what they are looking for. Adopting IPv6 is no longer.
Image Credit: Isaiah van Hunen