Preparing for the Internet of Things with IPv6

Colin O'Flynn – Dalhousie University

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IPv6 provides the framework to support networks that are larger and more diverse than ever imagined when IPv4 was deployed. These networks are ones where IP-connected smart objects cost less than a dollar, yet are transparently accessible to high-bandwidth super-computing devices.

The opportunity to integrate years of knowledge about what worked in IPv4 and what hacks we had to come up with to fix fundamental issues in the design of the protocols cannot be taken lightly. Treating the deployment of IPv6 as only a change in the appearance of IP addresses would be a disaster, one that by the time it’s discovered may be like attempting to rebuild a road bridge without impacting the traffic using it. IPv6 provides the opportunity to fundamentally redefine the architecture of your network, one that no longer has the restrictions imposed by IPv4. This redefined architecture is one which will support the expected order of magnitude increase in number of IP-connected devices in coming years.

The availability of ever increasing computing power in smaller and lower-power nodes also cannot be ignored. It is reasonable to assume that in the near future individual light sockets will be controlled by IPv6, as it allows a dramatic reduction in the length and number of power wiring, since there is no longer concern about ensuring certain sockets can be switched on and off in banks. Instead control of lights comes through ‘smart’ channels, and power is provided separately in the optimal manner for cost and safety constraints. The additional cost of adding a smart interface could easily be justified by the savings in reduced installation cost alone, let alone future savings in power due to smart management of lighting systems.

Supporting this explosion in devices will only be (reasonably) possible with IPv6. But part of the difficulty in switching to IPv6 is the fact that IPv4 has worked for such a long time, users and administrators alike have become used to ideas ingrained from various architectural limitations that the limited address space of IPv4 enforced. Taking full advantage of an IPv6 deployment requires more than just knowledge of changes in the standards, but an understanding of the underlying principals which have driven the development of IPv6 from day one.

Colin O’Flynn is with Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada where he researches issues around wireless security on protocols of importance to Smart Grid devices. He previously worked with Atmel, where he helped develop several lightweight IPv6 stacks, along with being involved in the development of Zigbee-IP.