IPv6, the next version of the Internet Protocol, could make life easier and battery life longer for electronics-addicted consumers.
Much of the push for IPv6 has been focused on the requirements of enterprises and the challenges they face in making the transition from the current protocol, IPv4. If device makers and service providers do their jobs right, consumers won't even know it when they start using IPv6, but they do stand to benefit, proponents of IPv6 said in a panel discussion at International CES on Thursday.
The main feature of IPv6 is a nearly endless supply of IP addresses, which devices and services on the Internet use to find each other. There are enough addresses available under the new protocol to give each person in the world 4.3 billion of them, according to Latif Ladid, president of the IPv6 Forum.
Many popular smartphones and tablets now on the market can use IPv6, including the iPhone 5, iPads 3, 4 and Mini, Samsung Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2, Nokia Windows 8 phones, and many models in the Sony Xperia line, according to Frederik Garneij, a systems manager at Ericsson.
With IPv6, there are enough addresses to give one to every device, so they can talk directly to each other over the Internet. Each phone, home security camera and broadband router can have a globally unique address.
"Every single device is able to be globally reached from every other device," said Dale Geesey, chief operating officer at Auspex Technologies, an IPv6 professional services company.
Today, broadband and mobile service providers using IPv4 typically use private IP addresses within their networks and assign true, unique Internet addresses to subscribers' devices only temporarily. This process, called NAT (network address translation), has a number of implications for consumer electronics, the panelists said. Using IPv6 instead could have several benefits, they said.
Here are some examples.
-- Accessing sites and content over the Internet is usually faster with IPv6 than with IPv4 because with the new protocol it requires fewer "hops" between network nodes, Ladid said.
-- Twitter, instant messaging, and push notification services, which have to constantly keep a network pipe open for incoming messages, don't mesh well with NAT, Ladid said. The applications have to keep telling the carrier that the temporary IP address is still in use. Sending those "keep alive" packets back and forth consumes battery life and network capacity, Ladid said.
An IPv6 address could stay with the phone, so none of those checks would be required.
"Since these devices do not have a constant IP address ... this NAT address has always, every 30 seconds, to say, 'I'm still on' to justify its presence," Ladid said. With IPv6, the phone could have its own unique Internet address and avoid that administrative traffic.
-- Connected-home devices such as security cameras and networked appliances with IPv6 can exchange data directly with another device across the Internet, such as the homeowner's smartphone. That gives more flexibility in how consumers can use those devices. For example, a smartphone can stream video from a home surveillance camera natively, without a special service, Ericsson's Garneij said. Also, getting a new Internet-connected device online for the first time can be easier when the manufacturer can assign it a permanent IPv6 address, Garneij said.
-- With a static address, it's easier to keep a data session alive while a smartphone or tablet travels with the user from one cell to another, Geesey said. Carriers do a pretty good job today of handing off regular voice calls between cell towers, using techniques that have been perfected over years of development. But mobile data handoffs can be more complicated, as devices move between 3G and 4G and application sessions have to be maintained.
An IPv6 address can remain constant and keep those sessions going, Geesey said. And in the next few years, when carriers turn their voice calls into data sessions using voice over LTE, this use of IPv6 is likely to grow more important, he said.