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IPv6 is the successor to IPv4, the numbering system that most of the world currently uses to identify objects connected to the Internet. At a recent meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in Brussels, Belgium, it was announced that the current pool of global IPv4 addresses is expected to run out by August 2011. This makes the transition to IPv6 especially urgent.
The inevitable exhaustion of IPv4 addresses has been known since the 1980s, but the rate has increased exponentially over recent years with more users getting online both through home broadband and 3G networks. IPv6 has a much greater address space than IPv4, supporting a seemingly infinite number of addresses.
Professor Ma Yan of Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications said that there cannot be an arbitrary switchover date. "IPv4 to IPv6 transition is not accomplished overnight, the two systems will certainly coexist for a while."
This co-existence is achieved through dual-stacking, which was demonstrated last month at the Shanghai Expo and Shenzhen Universiade. However, according to Professor Ma, while this is technically feasible it is not economically viable and ultimately will delay the deployment of IPv6 overall.
IPv4 and IPv6 are not compatible protocols. Most network system administrators are not yet familiar enough with the new protocol to provide adequate support and configuration. Moreover there is yet to be a killer application for IPv6 to be a catalyst for deployment.
It remains to be seen if China, and indeed the rest of the world, will be able to roll out IPv6 before the current addressing system runs out of numbers.