IPv6 and the Internet of Things (IoT) – Part II

IoT, IPv6 und die Cloud

In part I of this blog series I have covered different networking technologies for physical communication between IoT devices required for certain fields of applications (essentially covering layers 1 and 2 of the OSI model).

In this blog article I will specifically cover the advantages of the Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) in layer 3 (network or packet layer).

Without different IPv6 features and functions many IoT services could not be realized.

First of all the often named new, much bigger IP addresses for individual end-to-end identification of communicating partners. The IPv4 addresses have a size of 32 bits, whereas IPv6 addresses have a size of 128 bits. This should be sufficient to globally identify each individual device on the Internet. John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco, estimates the number of interconnected IoT devices in 2025 to reach 500 billions.

There will be enough spare address space until then, but we cannot estimate the real demand.

An additional major advantage of IPv6 addresses is the omission of Network Address Translation (NAT) to attach devices to the Internet. Many problems caused by this technology are solved automatically. The often named security advantages of NAT don´t really exist and this issue is resolved with IPv6. However, rethinking the topic is necessary in many IT departments.

Many IoT devices will be embedded into mobile systems. These systems may move and stay within reach of one physical network and then within another physical network. This requires the mobility of IPv6 addresses to prevent from assignment of new addresses for each network change (roaming). The standard „Mobile IPv6“ defines the use of permanently assigned addresses of devices in foreign networks to increase reachability.

IoT devices may be hard to configure. Who knows where and in what network an integrated sensor of a sneaker will have to communicate? The management effort for a large amount of devices is huge. The IPv6 protocol supports functions for automatic address assignment, for local generation of unique IPv6 addresses and to configure interface parameters required for communication in IP networks. Automatic distribution of network prefixes is important like automatic definition of interface identifiers using different methods not covered in this article.

Automatic exchange of IP configuration information between IoT devices allows fast integration of new devices.

This is very important, but also very dangerous. Who verifies the correctness and trustworthiness of configuration data? Who blocks hacker attacks against misinformation to jam a network or disconnect devices from their monitoring tools? What happens to highspeed trains when guiding systems are unable to receive important data? What happens to cars when their computer is hacked and unable to receive data from wheels or motor sensors due to misconfiguration? What happens to a cardiac patient whose wireless interface of his heart pacemaker was cracked?

Many IPv6 security features are already specified (e.g. Secure Neighbor Discovery, SEND, Virtual Private Networking like IPsec and others). But they have to be implemented in the IoT devices and configured properly. Some firewalls support Internet of Things security but additional features and funtions (especially application-oriented protocols) need to be implemented.

IPv6 supports the assignment of multiple IPv6 addresses with different prefix (of different logical networks) to one network interface. This increases reachability of devices like e.g. routers or IoT gateways. This IPv6 address assignment feature enables virtualization services and is important for cloud services as well.

The advantages of IPv6 for network operators are the simplified management of services, especially routing (smaller routing tables) and the easier assignment of network prefixes to customer networks.

The exchange of network prefixes during provider change is much easier. The validity of an assigned prefix is adjustable and allows a smooth transition from one provider to the other.

What does IPv6 look like to you? Send me your comments to this blog!

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Ronald Schlager is an independent trainer, consultant and blogger focused on communications technologies and their applications.

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