The emergence of streaming, VoIP, multimedia and other advanced applications inexorably increases demand for Internet addresses. Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) is aimed at fulfilling this demand. It's a good thing it's available: A landscape in which the supply of addresses is constrained -- as it would be in a world limited to 32-bit IPv4 -- may see fewer new applications or creative businesses emerge.
Put simply, the habit of sticking an Internet address indiscriminately on just about everything has caused a shortage of available numbers. For years, the answer to the problem has been clever workarounds, the most common of which is network address translation (NAT). That isn't an "elegant" or permanent solution, however, so the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is doing exactly what the post office did when it faced a dwindling supply of ZIP codes: It's adding new numbers.
Suffice it to say that IPv6 is going a bit farther than the "ZIP code + 4" from the post office. According to this Datamation story, the 128-bit addresses make it theoretically possible to create 665,570,793,348,866,943,898,599 addresses per square meter of the Earth's surface. However, the piece quotes a researcher as saying the realistic address limit is 3,911,873,538,269,506,102 per square meter. Sounds like enough to us.
The story suggests that IPv6 -- which has been treated with benign neglect by everyone during the past few years -- may get a boost this year because Microsoft's coming Longhorn Server and just-arrived Vista operating system both support it by default.
Whether IPv6 catches on remains to be seen. The story is reasonably skeptical. It suggests, quite sensibly, that companies and service providers are unlikely to do anything until a crisis occurs. It also says even its staunchest supporters concede that implementing IPv6 is no walk in the park.
IPv6 is a tangential issue to those who follow convergence today. But it will become increasingly important as the number of Internet end points -- including mobile devices, VoIP phone numbers, household appliances, and just about everything else under the sun -- proliferate. Experts say NAT and the other workarounds can add complexity and slow the routing of data. This is bad news if your goal is to traffic sensitive convergence packets, and makes a future without IPv6 particularly troublesome.