The immense potential of a truly connected world — people, devices, machines, vehicles, parts, implants, crops, livestock — will unprecedentedly change and expand the business environment for governments, industries, and consumers. Virtually all aspects, both personal and professional, will be impacted by the transformation of objects from the physical world into digital entities — entities that transmit and receive information.
When we think of data networks, through which all our properly digitized communications travel — e-mails, web pages, photos, videos, voice, chats — we think of an infrastructure that caters to human beings who are exchanging information. This network, whose cornerstone was established in the 1960s, no longer tends only to its inventors. One of the greatest growth vectors expected by telecommunications companies will be generated by “machine to machine” (M2M) communication, without human interference.
The current version of the protocol that all elements connected to the Internet need to know — the so-called IP or Internet Protocol — is the fourth of its kind, and it went live in 1983. IPs are “addresses” that allow data flowing through the network to be properly transferred from the sender to the recipient. You may have already seen an IPv4 (IP, version 4) address in its decimal form: there are four 1 to 3-digit numbers separated by periods — for example, 188.8.131.52. Well, each of these four numbers is represented by eight bits — sets of zeros and ones — so that each complete address is 32 bits long. Since there are only two possibilities for each of these 32 bits — either zero or one — there are then 2³² (2 to the power of 32) distinct address combinations, equivalent to approximately 4.3 billion.
Even with the various solutions to optimize the use of the available addresses, the limit supported by IPv4 would not be enough to serve an increasingly connected world. The number of users connected to the Internet grows rapidly, and, more importantly, the number of devices — computers, modems, laptops, tablets, mobile phones — is on the rise as well. In its report on mobility published in November 2016, Ericsson estimated that there are almost four billion smartphone users worldwide, and predicts that number will reach 6.8 billion by 2022.
The address shortage problem has been solved since mid ’00s, with version 6 of the Internet Protocol, which coexists with version 4. There are several differences between the two, and the most important is linked to the number of addresses allowed by this new model: they are 2¹²⁸ (two to the power of 128), or 340 trillion followed by 24 zeros (340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).
The challenge of addressing — fundamental for the development of the Internet of Things — has been solved. However, there is still a critical aspect, also in full discussion through various groups and consortia: the standardization of the messages exchanged by machines, with security and reliability. Using the Internet to send and receive data is one thing — sending information that can be processed is another. Autonomous cars, industrial machines, household equipment, body sensors and other elements must be able to communicate not only with each other, but also with the algorithms that will act on the information produced. The extraordinary opportunities that open up to many industries with the increase and diversification of the elements utilizing the Internet will impact businesses, processes, systems, and people. We will be talking about these opportunities next week. See you then.