How IPv6 is enabling the next generation of IoT

In January this year, the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab (UNH-IOL) moved into a new building, allowing the UNH-IOL to better monitor the building systems including HVAC and the backup power generator.  As a networking lab, we are always looking for ways to automate our systems to reduce the need for human intervention and maintenance.

This interconnecting of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, and embedded devices is the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT doesn’t just apply to a world class networking lab; recently, walking around my dad’s house I realised he too was enjoying the benefits of IoT. His house contains many devices that interface with his phone or cloud services. The thermostat, hot water heater, car, and TV were giving him the most up-to-date information and control. He is an accountant by trade and enjoys being able to track and “account” for things with the up-to-date statistics. When making his next purchase he looks for items that will give him this ability. These are the types of user experience both a builder and consumer are looking for today.

Devices and applications are dependent on the need to communicate to give users the best experience. According to Gartner there will be 13 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. That’s an increase of 8 billion devices from today, which is tripling the amount of devices on the Internet. Areas of potential growth include industrial, consumer, and enterprises. All different types of networks being built today need to plan to allow for growth in the network to accommodate the increase in devices.

Internet Protocol (IP) is a building block for devices being able to communicate. It allows information to be addressed making global internet connectivity a reality. IPv4 was the original Internet addressing architecture that utilises 32-bit addresses. This addressing scheme served the Internet well for 40 years, but recently it’s been hard to get a new IPv4 address. In North America, Europe and Asia there are no more IPv4 addresses available.

The good news is that the Internet community has been planning for this for the past 20 years. The next version, IPv6, supports 128 bit addressing, which is a much bigger address space. When first learning about IPv6 it was explained to me that if all the IPv4 addresses filled up a golf ball, IPv6 addresses would be the volume of the Sun. With the larger address space and the diminishing number of IPv4 addresses, moving to IPv6 addressing has become inevitable.

By design IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4, so devices that connect to the Internet need additional code to support IPv6. When IPv6 was first available there was great concern about devices being able to properly implement IPv6 and interoperate with each other. The IPv6 Forum stepped up and asked networking labs all over the world to collaborate on creating a test specification that would help implementations of IPv6.  They decided to create the IPv6 Ready Logo Program, to demonstrate both conformance and interoperability of IPv6 instances.  The program helps assure users that IPv6 will work on the Internet. Since the launch of the program in the early 2000s, the Forum has given out the IPv6 Ready Core Logo to roughly 2,000 different devices. This number continues to grow every day to meet the usage of IPv6 on the Internet. The latest measurements have IPv6 traffic at 13% of all Internet traffic. The IPv6 Ready Logo program has helped give users confidence in the products they are purchasing and deploying.