Today marks a major milestone in Internet history, and you’d be forgiven for not noticing it. That’s part of the plan.
Billions of Internet users should notice nothing as the web transitions to the 21st Century today and begins the big switch to a desperately needed new addressing system. The new system, known as Internet Protocol Version 6, or IPv6, will run concurrently with the older system, IPv4, to ensure a seamless transition. If all goes well, IPv6 should allow the Internet to continue its insane growth rate.
The switch comes none too soon. Last year, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority gave out its final batch of IP addresses. The U.S., Europe, Latin America and Africa were slated to run out by 2014. The Asia-Pacific region has already reached that point. Dubbed “World IPv6 Launch Day” by the Internet Society, companies from Google to Facebook to Time Warner Cable have signed on to switch from IPv4, and the society hopes that smaller web enterprises will also follow suit.
Vinton Cerf, the Chief Internet Televangelist for Google and “father of the Internet,” recently spoke about the change during the WorldScience Festival program,Internet Everywhere: The Future of History’s Most Disruptive Technology.
Thirty years ago, Cerf helped decide how many devices would be allowed to connect to the Internet. His prediction of 4.3 million seems almost quaint now, given the staggering grow of Internet use. But no one fully anticipated the growth of devices like smartphones and web-enabled appliances—a world that MIT professor Neal Gershenfeld calls the Internet of Things, where physical objects connect to the web. IPv6 will enable 340 undecillion new addresses. Will it see us through the decade?