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IPv4 vs IPv6: What You Need to Know

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IPv4 vs IPv6: A Little History

The first major internet protocol invented, IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) defines IP addresses in a 32-bit format. It remains the main configuration for delivering information between devices via the internet and has been in use since the 70s. This protocol has been the backbone of the world wide web and many other enterprise networks since the beginning of the internet.

IPv4 faced challenges due to its 32-bit format design and a limited number of available IP addresses (~4 billion). The imminent exhaustion of addresses spurred development on Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), released in the late 90s. IPv6 defines addresses in a 128-bit format and colossally increases the available address pool. The challenge facing the internet now is that IPv4 and IPv6 are two separate protocols that do not operate together.  

Supply & Demand

The exhaustion of IPv4 addresses was no surprise.  The last block of addresses was assigned in the early 2010s, according to IANA, the world’s IP management authority.  Since then, the world has managed with a combined approach of reassigning unused IPv4 addresses and introducing the IPv6 protocols. Most IP transit providers moved to a dual-stack architecture to manage both protocols, running them in parallel until IPv4 can be retired. 

Is IPv4 Retiring?

The adoption of IPv6 addresses has grown slowly. Upgrading IPv4-based networks include managing transition costs, in addition to the time, effort, and resulting downtime needed to update infrastructure design. For new networks, IPv6 protocol popularity has grown and internet service providers are adapting their network to support IPv6. As of late 2019, worldwide adoption of IPv6 protocols has reached approximately 30% according to measurements reported by Google.

Realistically, networks built on IPv4 technology will continue operating for an indeterminate amount of time. IPv4 addresses are championed by some to be easier to work with – particularly on small subnets, like those in small company networks or homes. If a transition was required suddenly, the question remains whether the network support community could manage the resulting workload. For now, a hybrid approach of both protocols will continue.

It takes expertise to understand how IPv4 vs IPv6 technology impacts your business. If you are deploying a new network and need IP addresses – or guidance on what to choose – reach out to us at iTel. Our team will make sure you get the best technology solution for your networking needs.

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Please contact us for any additional information. We would be more than happy to direct you to the resources you need, or to put you in touch with an iTel Associate who will be able to answer all of your questions.