Although the majority of devices currently connected to the internet are computers, you would probably consider an AV equipment manufacturer behind the times if they introduced a new product that was not IP-enabled. To date, the growth of the internet has been driven by the computer industry, but as we enter the next phase of internet growth, it is not surprising that the AV industry and its applications will be a key driver in the move from an internet comprised of PCs to an internet comprised of appliances and mobile devices.
It is not hard for us to envision an integrated system where every device that needs to exchange information is connected to a network. Yet anyone who is involved with networked devices would agree that these types of systems add a level of "network" complexity, and we haven't quite reached the simplicity of plug-and-play. So why is setting up a network so difficult?
The original concept of the internet (think PC) was designed where every device had an IP address and could communicate with any other device. As the number of IP-enabled devices was increasing, the quantity of fixed or static IP addresses was decreasing. The deployed technology solution to this problem was the use of network address translation, or NAT. NAT involves rewriting the source and/or destination addresses of IP packets as they pass through a router or firewall enabling the creation of a private network of additional IP addresses. Although NAT solves the IP address problems, it prevents each device from having true end-to-end connectivity.
So how did we get ourselves into this mess? Since the late 1970s the internet has used IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) to provide unique global computer addressing. IPv4 uses 32-bit (4-byte) addresses often expressed in dot-decimal notation (i.e. 184.108.40.206). This configuration limits the address space to 4,294,967,296 possible unique addresses. At that time of IPv4's introduction it was unimaginable that this quantity of addresses could be exhausted, but today's rapid growth of new IP broadband network-aware devices has created a need for millions of new unique IP addresses, thus the creation of IPv6. About now you might be asking what happened to IPv5? Well, IPv5 was assigned to an experimental protocol called ST (Internet Stream Protocol) that was never introduced for public usage. So we jump to IPv6.
Sometimes referred to as "IP Next Generation," IPv6 addresses are 128-bit numbers that are expressed using hexadecimal strings (i.e., 1080:0:0:0:8:800:200C:417A) with a theoretical limit of 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,60-7,431,768,211,456 addresses. Hopefully, that is enough to hold us for a few years! IPv6 will allow every device connected to a network to have a permanent and unique IP address that is reachable through a publicly visible global address.
In addition to solving the true end-to-end connectivity issue, IPv6 also addresses other shortcomings of IPv4, including simpler auto-configuration, efficient forwarding, improved quality of service, and built-in security.
Future products using IPv6 auto-configuration will connect, configure, and begin working, all without the intervention of a network-savvy user. The deployment will not only be simpler, but the customer experience will also be enhanced.
Mobile products using IPv6 will stay connected all the time, even while they are moving. An example would be a videoconference session through a cellular connection while you are sitting at Starbucks that can be switched to your office wireless link, when you get back to the office, without interruption of service.
The challenge for IPv6 is for its transition to be complete before the IPv4 routing and addressing break. Asian countries, where IP addresses are in short supply, are mandating the adoption of IPv6. The Japanese government estimates that the move to IPv6 will create a $1.55 trillion technology market by 2010. Likewise, the White House Office of Management and Budget has directed U.S. federal agencies to develop IPv6 transition plans to meet a mandatory deadline of June 2008.
The key transition requirements are flexibility of deployment and the ability for IPv4 hosts to communicate with IPv6 hosts. There will be IPv6-only hosts, just as there will be IPv4 hosts, but the capability must exist for IPv6 hosts to communicate with IPv4 hosts-in other words, backwards compatibility.
IPv6 momentum is increasing in the U.S. Microsoft has promised out-of-the-box IPv6 support in the Windows Vista operating system. New IPv6-enabled chips are becoming readily available for new technology products, and we continue to see exponential growth of broadband connectivity to the home and wireless devices with the anticipation of hundreds of new IPv6-enabled products during 2007 and 2008.
So why is this important to you? IPv6-enabled products will create new advanced product opportunities for manufacturers while creating new business applications for resellers. From niche IPTV channels for churches, schools, and businesses to enhanced automation, communications, and monitoring for anything the internet touches.
IPv6 is a major enabling technology that will see rapid growth within the next few years. It is important that you and your company become educated on both the business and technology aspects of IPv6. Start to think about the new applications and services, as well as investigate which products will support both IPv4 and IPv6.