Does the Internet of Things Require IPv6?

The buzz about the Internet of Things has yet to subside, and for good reason. More companies continue to invest in IoT research and development, most recently Samsung with its recent decision to spend $1.2 billion on IoT over the next four years. But with all the discussion about how IoT is the future, it begs the question – can IoT even exist without a switch over to IPv6? What will this transition look like? I’ll attempt to answer both of those questions so we can get a greater sense of what the upcoming IoT landscape means for networking professionals.

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First of all, is IPv6 necessary for IoT to happen? Yes, according to many sources. The first reason is likely the most obvious – for the additional address space that IPv6 provides. There will be tens of billions of Internet-connected devices by 2020, though the exact number depends on who you ask; some think perhaps 30 billion, while a 2011 Cisco white paper predicts it could be 50 billion. Unfortunately, the address space for IPv4 is 4.3 billion items, and we have already passed that number of Internet-connected devices in the world. While IPv6 adoption is not too high yet (around 12 percent of Internet traffic according to Google), it will need to continue to grow in the coming years. On the plus side, IPv6 provides address space for up to 340 undecillion devices – enough for 34 billion people to each have 1028 Internet-connected devices. Although this figure is slightly inflated since some combinations of IPv6 addresses are reserved, the point is that IPv6 addresses will last us for a long time.

Aside from all that, there are other reasons to switch over to IPv6 as quickly as possible. One of these is device connectability. With IPv4 so far, getting different devices to communicate with each other has been problematic. Although Network Address Translation (NAT) was originally created to help with IPv4 addressing, it ended up causing issues inter-device communication. Specifically, NAT was used so that multiple devices could use the same IPv4 address, which was necessary when IPv4 address space was low; but now NAT is no longer necessary (and neither is port forwarding, incidentally). With IPv6, every IoT device can get its own unique IP. Additionally, not having to worry with NAT should make IPv6 more secure.

For these and other reasons, IPv6 does appear to be the helpful, if not outright necessary, for the spread of the IoT. And this is good because many business have already started building up the IoT market – a market that is expected to reach a worth of $151 billion by 2020. From major platform suppliers such as C3 to manufacturing giants such as APAC, to tech giants like Amazon and Google, the market is building quickly. While IPv6 is not a perfect solution that does not fix every problem with IoT, it is a needed adoption for IoT companies at all levels. Hopefully, IPv6 adoption will come quickly enough to outpace the creation of many new Internet-connected devices.