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In The News - The IPv6 trial

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Helen Purves Helen Purves | 10:14 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

You might have read that major web companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Facebook are trying out something called "IPv6" today - but what does it mean? More importantly, will it affect you? Well, probably, because eventually you're going to need new hardware to connect to the internet.  Here's why.

To understand about IPv6, it's first worth understanding the whole concept of IP addresses.  You can read all about it in our WebWise articles "What is the internet?" and "How the web works" if you want to, but here's a summary.

In short, every device (computer, mobile phone, server, you name it) and website that's part of the internet has a unique string of numbers, known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address.  When you type a web address into your browser, it looks up this address (the same way you might look up a telephone number, for example) so that it can connect to the right server and show you the website.

The thing is, the current system used means that there are only so many combinations available - and the massive growth of the internet and new internet-enabled technology like smart phones means that we're running out.  That's why IPv6 is being very slowly introduced - instead of a possible combination of up to 12 numbers the new IP addresses will be much longer and will use not just numbers but letters as well. 

This means that the internet can grow to be much bigger, but it also means that the technology you use to connect will eventually become obsolete - so at some point in the next few years, you're going to need a new internet router.  Don't worry - your internet service provider (ISP) should send you one, and IPv5 should work for around ten more years anyway!

Read the full story on the BBC News Technology website for more information.

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