In all the talk about the 4G services that should come out of next year's spectrum auction, the question of IP addressing deserves serious attention, says Axel Pawlik.
There's been a lot of buzz around Ofcom's plans to sell off the 4G LTE mobile spectrum in early to mid-2012. Auctioning the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands to the likes of O2 and Vodafone will be a major step towards faster data speeds, already enjoyed in many developing and developed countries.
Competition is fierce because the spectrum is a finite space or resource, and one that offers huge potential benefits in terms of internet user experience.
However, it is not the only technology resource required to improve connectivity, of which there is a limited supply. The IP addressing system is also needed, as any device that is designed to connect to the internet requires an IP address to communicate with other devices on the network.
Demand for 3G and 4G LTE has been fuelled by the proliferation of smartphones and mobile broadband data services as more people access the internet on the go. Such expansion of connected devices has also contributed to the exhaustion of the current internet address standard, IPv4.
When the internet was created, four billion IP addresses — the individual numerical label assigned to every connected device — seemed enough.
Dearth of addresses for 4G-enabled devices
However, IPv4 is almost depleted and if the new version, IPv6, is not deployed, there will be no addresses to assign to the new 4G-enabled devices.
While not infinite, the IPv6 address space is based on 128-bit numbers and consequently large enough that scarcity will not be an issue for network operators for the foreseeable future. Rather than being decided by auction, allocation works on a requirement-based process managed by the five regional internet registries, which hold and distribute the resource.
This system works to globally and locally agreed principles, so it's not constrained to a particular country, as in the case of 4G. There is no competition for addresses. Every stakeholder has enough to be able to meet its need, enabling existing organisations to grow, and new entrants to connect to the internet.
Many devices are now being shipped IPv6-ready but that compatibility alone is not enough. IPv6 is not compatible with IPv4, so if the networks aren't IPv6-ready...
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