The Internet

By anyone’s assessment, the Internet is an important infrastructure central to many innovations in business, government, media, education, healthcare, socialising, entertainment and the arts. There is hardly a part of our lives it doesn’t touch.

It’s worth noting here that whilst “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are often used interchangeably, they are not synonyms. The Web runs ‘on top’ of the Internet, as does email transmission for example.

The Internet relies on universal adoption of the Internet Protocol Suite, often referred to as TCP/IP after its two most important protocols: Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol.

Remarkably, for protocols harking back to the 1960s, they have served us incredibly well. For example, their designers had no crystal ball foretelling the arrival of the Web with its Amazons, Googles, YouTubes, Facebooks and Twitters, nor voice-over-IP or video-over-IP or BitTorrent or Internet of Things.

Yet here we are!

The versions of Internet Protocol are explained further here…

Internet Protocol version 4

Following the development of three test protocols, Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4 for short, emerged from the labs into the real world at the beginning of the 1980s and it has been working for us faithfully ever since.

The Internet Protocol governs how packets of data are routed from one place to another on the Internet, or indeed on any network built with the protocol, and version 4 can cope with around 4.3 billion places, or addresses to use the formal term.

These unique addresses are distributed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), an entity operated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), to five Regional Internet Registries, which then distribute the addresses to their members, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The trouble is, few of these addresses remain unallocated by the five Regional Internet Registries, if any.

Internet Protocol version 6

IPv4′s successor is IPv6. (The idea of a “version 5″ was co-opted into an experimental protocol that never took off.)

For over a decade, version 6 has been waiting in the wings to take over from IPv4. It is a proven protocol powering many networks today, but whilst some evangelists would like to have seen earlier and much more widespread adoption of IPv6 than we have witnessed, ultimately the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses was always going to be the moment IPv6 would come into its own.

To be clear, the Internet does not stop working when we run out of unallocated IPv4 addresses, but its future growth is stymied without IPv6 uptake. And by association, the continued innovations the Internet makes possible in all aspects of life will be frustrated too.