The transition to IPv6 is important not only because the 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses are running out, but also because the proliferation of Internet-connected devices is creating a new environment of information. “The Internet of Things is very much upon on us,” said Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist, at the Rocky Mountain IPv6 Summit on Thursday, April 18, in Denver.

Every device that connects to the Internet requires an IP address, and it has been predicted that by 2020 there will be 50 billion Internet-enabled devices in the world. To put that number in perspective, that equates to more than six connected devices per person, based on an expected global population of 7.6 billion people. “With the explosion of mobile devices — especially as asset intelligence and machine-to-machine embed connectivity in literally everything — unique IP addresses are becoming a scarce resource,” according to Deloitte.

Thus the move to IPv6 is necessary as it provides an almost unimaginable number of IP addresses — 18 quintillion blocks of 18 quintillion possible addresses.

Is your Internet service, software or equipment IPv6 compatible? The FCC points users to http://test-ipv6.com for a free network service test.
In a prerecorded video speech, Cerf said the proliferation of Internet connections will include automobiles. While not as high-tech as Google’s self-driving car, Cerf said in the future, vehicles will report their condition and other information in order to aid maintenance. In addition, medical and scientific instruments will automatically record and report their status as well as the data they collect. “So all of you working on IPv6 are in fact working on a much larger and much more challenging scope and that is this avalanche of content and information,” Cerf said.

In addition to allowing for an increasingly connected world, IPv6 will also benefit public safety communications. Latif Ladid, president of the Global IPv6 Forum, said IPv6-enabled devices, such as iPhones, provide better communication interoperability than first responders currently have. Upgrading to the new protocol will allow public safety workers to use LTE directly, enabling the sharing of not only voice communications, but also photos and videos. However, proprietary solutions and legacy systems can halt progress. “We have found that this is an important area that is going to take more decision-making than just the technology itself,” Ladid said.

Although IPv6 was turned on nearly a year ago, design of the standard was done in the 1990s. “It has taken a very long time to get implementations up and running,” Cerf said. Naming a couple obstacles to implementation, Cerf said currently the biggest barrier is getting Internet service providers to turn the capability on. And like all tech implementations, security is another issue – neither IPv6 nor IPv4 protect against denial of service attacks, for example. “Switching from one protocol to the other or running them both in parallel doesn’t solve that problem, which simply means we have many other things to worry about,” Cerf said.

But government can’t afford to wait for issues to be worked out before looking at how to migrate to the new protocol. As Government Technology reported in March, the concern is that once IPv4 addresses are gone, citizens who have the new addresses won’t be able to access public websites that are running on IPv4. “The challenge becomes, if you are reaching out to someone who no longer supports IPv4, you wouldn’t be able to reach the person,” said William Hickox, chief operating officer of the Delaware Department of Technology and Information. “It’s not going to happen anytime soon, but we want to be prepared in the event that gets to be the case."

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Elaine Pittman  |  Associate Editor

Elaine Pittman is the associate editor for Government Technology, Public CIO and Emergency Management. Before coming to Government Technology, she worked for The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.