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Internet Readies for Transition to IPv6

BY Jenny Marder  June 7, 2011 at 7:45 PM EDT

With the need for more IP addresses, Internet giants on Wednesday are launching a test of a new worldwide system. More than 400 organizations, including Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and YouTube, will participate in a trial run of a new protocol, called Internet Protocol version 6, known as IPv6.

The test is so far-flung, it’s been dubbed World IPv6 Day. CNET Executive Editor Molly Wood explains it all to Hari Sreenivasan.

Here are the basics: An IP address is a set of numbers that directs online traffic to the correct location. The original system — Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) — has some 4 billion addresses, which seemed like a huge number when it was rolled out, but ultimately wasn’t enough. IPv6 allows for 3.4 x 10^38 addresses. That number is so big that Wood calls it “unlimited.” IPv4 doled out its last remaining addresses earlier this year.

The transition is similar to when telephone companies add extra digits to phone numbers, and the goal of the test is for service providers to iron out any glitches before the real switch. Worst case scenario, Wood says, is that everyone who tries to access these sites can’t. But Internet giants have been preparing for this test for a year now. 

“What they’re hoping,” she added, “is that only a small number of people have problems.”