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IPv6 Is Here to Stay

For the World Launch, major Internet companies and service providers have finally turned on IPv6 for good

2 min read
IPv6 Is Here to Stay

You’ve likely been hearing rumblings about IPv6—the standard that will replace the old way of identifying devices on the Internet—since as long ago as the late 1990s. Even back then, network engineers foresaw that the current addressing system, IPv4—with its nearly 4.3 billion possible addresses—would some day be insufficient to support the 10 billion or so routers, servers, PCs, iPhones and Xboxes that are now being connected.

Well, that day has certainly come, and the major Internet players know they must make the transition to IPv6 compatibility or risk losing new customers. Which is why the Internet Society coordinated today’s World IPv6 Launch. It's a chance for AT&T, Free Telecom, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others to all take the plunge together. That way, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong for everyone.

So far, though, the change has gone smoothly and in all likelihood will continue that way. The participating companies have been testing their IPv6 networks for months, and many took them for a one-day public test run last year on World IPv6 Day. Other Internet providers—Hurricane Electric, for example—have been operating IPv6 networks for some time now.

What does this all mean for the iPhone and Xbox users? Nothing, probably. At least for a while. Companies that made the upgrade have enabled both IPv6 and IPv4 traffic on their networks and Websites. So if your device and software are IPv6 compatible (most major ones are) and your service provider supports IPv6, you can surf Google or watch movies on Netflix using an IPv6 infrastructure. If not, no worries; you can still connect seamlessly using IPv4. (If you’re curious whether you can access the IPv6 Internet, you can find out here.)

However, as more and more users and devices get assigned IPv6 addresses—which is already happening in the Asia Pacific region—they may have trouble accessing Websites and services that are only IPv4 compatible. Many ISPs already offer “tunnel services” that translate between old and new IP addresses, which fixes the access problem but can cause delays—a real nuisance when you’re dealing with data-heavy applications such as video streaming.

Eventually, companies will start switching off their IPv4 infrastructure—a process that will likely play out over many years. As Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer for the Internet Society, told IEEE Spectrum editor Steven Cherry last year during IPv6 Day, when we finally do flip the switch to an all-IPv6 Internet, probably no one will even notice.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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