CES: getting gadgets IPv6-ready

This year's Consumer Electronics Show has no shortage of web-enabled gadgets, but to actually connect to the internet, they'll soon need to be using IPv6, the new system of generating IP addresses.

Q&A with expert helping manufacturers prepare for new internet protocol

Customers at an internet cafe in Taiyuan, China. Any device connected to the internet needs an internet protocol address, a string of numbers unique to it that identify it and enable it to communicate with the web. As the number of web-enabled devices grows, the old system of assigning IP addresses can no longer accommodate them all and will have to, in the very near future, be replaced by a new system of allocating IP addresses called IP Version 6. (Reuters/ Stringer)

The annual Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, isn't all glitz and gadget glamour; there's actual work going on at the Las Vegas show, too.

One of the less-sexy forms of that work is ensuring the proliferation of something called internet protocol version six, or IPv6, a new system of generating IP addresses, the unique strings of numbers that devices connecting to the internet must have in order to communicate with the web.

Bill Sandiford, president of Oshawa, Ont.-based Telnet Communications, works with the IPv6 organization and was in Las Vegas for the event. He discussed IPv6 and its importance to consumer electronics with

What are you doing here at CES?

I'm here with ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers. We are the organization that delegates all the IP resources for the North American region, things like IP addresses that consumers don't normally see but it's actually what's behind making your internet connection work.

A lot of people don't realize that we are almost out of the original IP numbering scheme we had, which is known as IPv4, and there's been a movement afoot to pick up IPv6 for a number of years now, but it's really picking up momentum.

We're walking around and talking to vendors and exhibitors, making sure their products are ready for IPv6 and checking with them to see if they need any help to make sure their products are going to work with it.

Do you guys hate people like Vint Cerf, who originally engineered the internet in the late 1960s, for creating such a limited system in the first place?

Vint Cert actually sits on our board. I think back in the days when the original IP numbering scheme was put together, they thought that four billion addresses would be enough for their little research network. It was never envisioned that it would become such a commercial success like it is today. The IPv6 number scheme, the way it's been designed, has sufficient addresses that we won't have to worry about it in our lifetimes or our children's lifetimes.

People associate CES with flashy new TVs, tablets and other gadgets. IP addresses aren't something they normally think of.

A Withings smart blood pressure monitor with an iPhone connection is displayed at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The device uploads blood pressure information to an internet site, meaning it, too, needs an IP address. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

If you take a look as you walk around CES, you'll see that everything is getting internet connected. A few aisles ago, I saw an internet-connected bathroom scale and blood pressure monitors. Anything that's internet connected requires an IP address, and we're almost out of IPv4 addresses. So, especially with some of these smaller vendors, it's important that we're talking to them and making sure they're aware of the issue and getting them the resources they need so they can make their products ready.

There are parts of the world — Asia, for example — where their allotment of IPv4 addresses is gone. There are people coming online in Asia that are IPv6 only, so if you want to communicate with these people and have products that appeal to them, it's got to be IPv6.

What's the actual number of addresses under IPv6?

The actual number is 320 undecillion, which is a trillion trillion trillion addresses. There have been lots of catchphrases put out about it, like there are more IPv6 addresses than grains of sand on planet Earth. The one we hear a lot is if you were to drain the Great Lakes and fill them with M&Ms, that's exactly how many M&Ms it would take. The number of golf balls you could fit in the sun, things like that.

People have a way of underestimating these things. Maybe we'll run out again in 10 years...

I don't think so, but who knows.