News / Science & Technology

Next Generation Internet Addresses Being Tested

A visual representation of allocated IPv4 Internet addresses as of November 2010, from the LANDER project at the University of Southern California (USC).
A visual representation of allocated IPv4 Internet addresses as of November 2010, from the LANDER project at the University of Southern California (USC).
William Ide

On Wednesday, Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and other major Internet companies will participate in what is being called IPv6 or Internet Protocol Version 6 Test Day. The 24-hour trial run is being held to test a new communication system for the Internet, which computer experts say is needed as more and more devices go online and the Web is quickly running out of addresses.

It’s likely that you may not even notice it, but on Wednesday, across the globe, the Internet will be taking a test flight to try out a new system that will eventually lead to a dramatic increase in the number of addresses on the World Wide Web.

“We now have a tremendous number of users on the internet. And the Internet protocol or think of it as the Internet telephone number that exists for everybody on the Internet is kind of running out,” said David Gewirtz, an Internet expert at the U.S. Strategic Perspectives Institute.

“When this stuff came into play 30 some odd years ago, people never expected that everybody on a cell phone would have an Internet address, everybody with a video game console would have an Internet address and so and so forth.  And so now as the Internet becomes the wiring that connects everybody in the world, there’s not enough Internet phone numbers or IP addresses for all of those devices.”

The Internet Society, a non-profit organization based in Reston, Virginia that focuses on Internet standards, policy and education is promoting the trial run.

Leslie Daigle, is the group’s chief Internet Technology Officer. “Once it escaped the research lab (IPv4) and started becoming an important component of everyday life.  It was pretty clear that IPv4, which only has four billion addresses, would not be enough to serve the needs of the world. I mean, do the math. There are fewer IPv4 addresses than there are people on the face of the earth.”

Why so many IP addresses

In a blog posting this week, Google called the test run an important milestone, adding that the deployment of IPv6 is crucial to the continued growth of the Internet.

Organizers hope Wednesday’s event will boost awareness and promote what has so far been a slow shift to the new system.

Daigle says it would be valuable if the new system accounted for 20 percent of the Internet’s traffic by next year.

“In terms of actual numbers, we still see almost vanishingly small amount of IPv6 traffic on the Internet. It’s on the order of one and a half to three percent of the traffic that comes over IPv6 depending on whose measurements you use,” Daigle said.

Daigle says more than 400 organizations from across the globe are participating in the IPv6 Test Day. Internet service providers and government's including the European Commission and U.S. government websites will join in the test.

China has been aggressively positioning itself to make the transition to IPv6.  During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China showcased the IPv6 infrastructure.

China has set up a website to mark IPv6 Test Day, which includes a list of more than 100 sites that it says are running on the next generation system.

Gewirtz says China’s aggressive approach highlights its desire to promote technological development and the reality that it has a huge population.

“They have 1.2 billion people, which is pretty much the number of IPv4 addresses total. So for China to be fully on the Internet, in it’s full glory moving into the 21st century it needs more phone numbers or essentially more Internet addresses,” Gewirtz said.

According to statistics in China, the country already has more than 450 million Internet users and 66 percent of Chinese access the Internet using cell phones.

During Wednesday's test, Google says most users will be unaffected, but that it will place a prominent a notice on Google Search's main page for those who may not be able to connect and direct them to a test page to see if the connection is working.

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