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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Your Identity as a Number but not the one you think!

Some of you may have heard the growing interest in IPv6 which is the 6TH version or release of the Internet Protocol which underpins how the Internet and our increasingly IP based communications work. I can already hear people switching off thinking, ok here we go another in depth technical article – well I promise you it is not, but in the words of a friend of mine I will endeavor to keep this as straight forward as possible. The main reason to introduce the new Internet Protocol is to ensure there are sufficient IP addresses available as more devices are connected – particularly with increased traffic between machines (e.g. your power meter at home and the power company’s monitoring system – yes it is happening). What is interesting to note is that IPv4 provided us with just under 4.3 BILLION IP addresses (IPv6 will provide us with a mechanism to have up to 340 undecillion IP addresses by the way – and yes that is a real number!), and apparently we will run out in 6 months, which would mean that unless we expand the number of IP addresses the Internet and the current number of IP based devices as we know it will stop growing. Every device that connects to the Internet needs some form of unique identifier which happens to be the IP address and once we run out we can no longer add further devices  – I don’t believe this by the way, I am aware of a number of Service Providers who still have extensive numbers of IP addresses unallocated, if we wanted to maximize the existing platform all you would have to do is limit Service providers to only having a 10-15% buffer above their active allocation and then manage the remaining IP address allocation through the Internet Registries … ok enough jargon, I promise!
The main reason I am interested in IPv6 is what it will mean to all of us as individuals. IPv6 introduces the concept of greater flexibility to the user in retaining your IP address allocation irrelevant of which provider you use or platforms you access. Consider for a moment the changes that were brought about by Number Portability, for the first time we were able to change mobile provider and still stay in touch with our friends and colleagues without having to inform everyone in our address books that we had changed numbers. With the introduction of IPv6 we are about to see a similar occurrence but this time for our IP based identity. When you change company you change IP address, or IM log-in and your desk phone, just because we move, change jobs or even move house why should we have to rest all of our communication and social media identities. What I mean is think about having a single identity for your desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile and that once you log in all of the communication, social network and other applications you use would be adapted to that device but still with one log in for all. At the moment we have different identifications such as email, phone numbers, social networking id’s, application id’s and so on, but if we each had a unique identifier that stayed with us no matter which supplier we chose to use for connectivity then we could choose how we communicate rather than the limitations of the application or tool we would use at any one point in time.
We talk about intelligent networks for prioritization of traffic and this concept of a single identity would finally be able to maximize this potential. Visualize for a moment that you decide how you want to communicate with someone, they send you an email but you decide to call them back, you don’t look up a phone number you simply select response type and call the person, because they have a single identity for ALL communications. The network then identifies that you are trying to call rather than email and because of the quality of connection required to make a voice call prioritized your connection. Alternatively the person is away from home or office and prefers to be contacted by IM or text, the platform could inform you that these are the only options to contact the person at this time unless you would like to leave them a voice message which would be converted to text or sent as a voice file to the end user. There are numerous scenarios that we can consider here, but mainly it allows us all as individuals to interact and engage with the environment around us in a nimble framework all using one identifying number. The next step in this process is that we will be oblivious to the actual number on a day to day basis, as this will be automatically assigned to any new application or tool we decide to use. Similar to Skype and other applications today we search each other on Name or Nick name rather than by a specific number. Our network of contacts would be based on who we want to communicate with not what numbers they do or do not have.
The final part of this puzzle is the resulting competition, with a growing number of countries seeking to provide National Broadband Networks under a separate operating entity to Service Providers and Operators, the choice of providers for these services would be limitless as we would be able to retain our IP address which would form the essence of our identity. With virtualization
Now some of you will read this and say, interesting concept but we are years away from realizing this at the moment, well I can tell you it is closer than you think. I have seen a number of applications that are already working to promote multiple device, multiple communication options with a single log in and profile … at the moment this is not as attractive and smooth as it could be, but I am confident that we will soon see an increasing trend to IP based communications and device agnostic platforms that will make our lives simpler and create a new market for cross functional services identifying you as the unique user and no longer each and every one of your separate identities.
Hence yes we will be identified with a number, but not your mobile number an IP address, and to think all of this will be due to the fact that we are about to run out of IP addresses, a classic case of a cloud with a silver lining! J

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