Thursday, February 24, 2022

Why Is IPv6 So Important for the Development of the Metaverse?

 By Gabriel E. Levy B. and Alejandro Acosta

Over almost half a century, the TCP/IP protocols have helped connect billions of people.

Since the creation of the Internet, they have been the universal standards used to transmit information, making it possible for the Internet to function[3].

The acronym ‘IP’ can refer to two different but interrelated concepts. The first is a protocol (the Internet Protocol) whose main function is to be used in bidirectional (source and destination) data transmission based on the Open System Interconnection (OSI) standard[4]The second possible reference when talking about IP involves the assignment of physical addresses in the form of numbers known as ‘IP Addresses’. An IP address is a logical and hierarchical identifier assigned to a network device that uses the Internet Protocol (IP). It corresponds to the network layer, or layer 3 of the OSI model.

IPv4 refers to the fourth version of the Internet Protocol, a standard for the interconnection of Internet-based networks which was implemented in 1983 for the operation of ARPANET and its subsequent migration to the Internet.[5].

IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses, the equivalent of 4.3 billion unique numbering blocks, a figure that back in the 80s appeared to be inexhaustible. However, thanks to the enormous and unforeseen growth of the Internet, by 2011 the unexpected had happened: IPv4 addresses had been exhausted[6].

IPv6 as a solution to the bottleneck

To address the lack of available address resources, the engineering groups responsible for the Internet have resorted to multiple solutions, ranging from the creation of private subnets so that multiple users can connect using a single address, to the creation of a new protocol called IPv6 which promises to be the definitive solution to the problem and which was officially launched on 6 June 2012[7]:

“Anticipating IPv4 address exhaustion and seeking to provide a long-term solution to the problem, the organization that promotes and develops Internet standards (the Internet Engineering Task Force or IETF) designed a new version of the Internet Protocol, specifically version 6 (IPv6), with provides almost limitless availability based on a the use of 128-bit addresses, the equivalent to approximately 340 undecillion addresses”**[[8]**.

It should be noted, however, that the creation of the IPv6 protocol did not anticipate a migration or shift from one protocol to another. Instead, a mechanism was designed to allow both protocols to coexist for a time.

To ensure that the transition would be transparent to users and to allow a reasonable amount of time for vendors to incorporate the new technology and for Internet providers to implement the new version of the protocol in their own networks, along with the IPV6 protocol itself, the organization responsible for Internet protocol standardization — the IETF — designed a series of transition and coexistence mechanisms.

“Imagine this is a weight scale where the plate carrying the heaviest weight currently represents IPv4 traffic. However, little by little and thanks to this coexistence, as more content and services become available over IPv6, the weight of the scale will shift to the other plate, until IPv6 traffic outweighs IPv4. This is what we call the transition”**[9]**.

If both protocols (IPv4 and IPv6) are available, IPv6 is preferred by design. This is why the balance shifts naturally, depending on multiple factors and without us being able to determine how long IPv4 will continue to exist and in what proportion. If one had a crystal ball, one might say that IPv6 will become the dominant protocol in three or four years, and that IPv4 will disappear from the Internet — or at least from many parts of the Internet — in the same timeframe”[10].

Without IPv6 there may be no Metaverse

Metaverses or metauniverses are environments where humans interact socially and economically through their avatars in cyberspace, which is an amplified metaphor for the real world, except that there are no physical or economic limitations[11].

“You can think about the Metaverse as an embodied Internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily have on a 2D app or webpage.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO**[12]**.

The Metaverse necessarily runs on the Internet, which in turn uses the Internet Protocol (IP) to function.

The Metaverse is a type of simulation where avatars allow users to have much more immersive and realistic connections by displaying a virtual universe that runs online. This is why it is necessary to ensure that the Metaverse is immersive, multisensory, interactive, that it runs in real time, that it allows each user to be precisely differentiated, and that it deploys simultaneous and complex graphic tools, among many other elements. All this would be impossible to guarantee with the IPv4 protocol, as the number of IP addresses would not be enough to cover each connection, nor would it be possible to guarantee that technologies such as NAT would function properly.

Key elements:

  • IPv6 is the only protocol that can guarantee enough IP resources to support the Metaverse.
  • IPv6 avoids the use of NAT mechanisms that would create technological difficulties for the deployment of the Metaverse.
  • IPv6 links have lower RTT delay than IPv4 links, and this allows avatar representations, including holograms, to be displayed synchronously.
  • Considering the huge amount of data involved in the deployment of the Metaverse, it is necessary to ensure the least possible data loss. This is why IPv6 is the best option, as evidence shows that data loss is 20% lower when using IPv6 than when using IPv4[13].

The role of small ISPs

Considering that small ISPs are responsible for the connectivity of millions of people across Latin America and that, as previously noted, they are largely responsible for reducing the digital divide[14], it is very It is important for these operators to accelerate their migration/transition to IPv6, not only to remain competitive in relation to larger operators, but also to be able to guarantee their users that technologies such as the Metaverse will work on their devices without major technological headaches.

In conclusion, while the true scope of the Metaverse remains to be seen, its deployment, implementation, and widespread adoption will be possible thanks to the IPv6 protocol, a technology that has provided a solution to the availability of IP resources, avoiding the cumbersome network address translation (NAT) process, improving response times, reducing RTT delay, and decreasing packet losses, while at the same time allowing simultaneous utilization by an enormous number of users.

All of the above leads us to conclude that the Metaverse would not be possible without IPv6.

Disclaimer: This article contains a review and analysis undertaken in the context of the digital transformation within the information society and is duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources, which have been delimited and published.

The information contained in this journalistic and opinion piece does not necessarily represent the position of Andinalink or of the organizations commercially related with Andinalink.

[1] Andinalink article: Metaversos y el Internet del Futuro (Metaverses and the Internet of the Future)
[2] Andinalink article: Metaversos: Expectativas VS Realidad (Metaverses: Expectations vs Reality)
[3] In the article titled: El agotamiento del protocolo IP (The Exhaustion of the IP Protocol) we explain the characteristics of the TCP protocol. 
[4] Standard reference document on the OSI connectivity model
[5] The article titled: ¿Fue creada Arpanet para soportar una guerra nuclear? (Was Arpanet Created to Withstand a Nuclear War?) details the features and history of Arpanet.
[6] LACNIC document on the Phases of IPv4 Exhaustion
[7] Document published by the IETF about World IPv6 Launch on its sixth anniversary
[8] Guide for the Transition to IPv6 published by the Colombian Ministry of Information and Communications Technology
[9] Guide for the Transition to IPv6 published by the Colombian Ministry of Information and Communications Technology
[10] Guide for the Transition to IPv6 published by the Colombian Ministry of Information and Communications Technology
[11] Andinalink article on Metaverses
[12] Mark in the Metaverse: Facebook’s CEO on why the social network is becoming ‘a metaverse company: The Verge Podcast
[13] Analysis by Alejandro Acosta (LACNIC) of the impact of IPv6 on tactile systems
[14] Andinalink article: Los WISP disminuyen la brecha digital (WISPs Reduce the Digital Divide)