Internet Addresses Get More Space With New Protocol

Even on the Internet, 4.3 billion just wasn't enough; 340 undecillion is more like it. That's 340 trillion trillion trillion, the new capacity of available Internet addresses, thanks to IPv6, the next generation protocol that launched this past week. Weekend EditionSunday host Rachel Martin talks with CNET senior writer Stephen Shankland to put it all in perspective.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's a little early in the program for a puzzle, but here's a trivia question for you: How much is an undecillion?

STEPHEN SHANKLAND: The number one followed by 36 zeroes. It's an awfully large number. It's also a trillion trillion trillion.

MARTIN: That's Stephen Shankland of the tech media website C-Net. He's been contemplating those kinds of numbers since the launch this past week of something called IPv6. It's the next generation Internet protocol. Shankland spoke to us via Skype.

SHANKLAND: The Internet today is running out of room. If you want to attach something to the Internet like your computer or your smartphone, it need what's called an IP address, an Internet Protocol address.

MARTIN: You know, that series of numbers and dots that's just like a street address for computers and websites. Thirty years ago when the Internet was first designed, 4.3 billion IP addresses sounded like plenty. But that number was just a little off. There are already billions of mobile phones and computers in use.

SHANKLAND: And, of course, in the future, we're probably going to be connecting all kinds of other things - refrigerators and washing machines, light switches. Any number of things need an IP address in the future.

MARTIN: Shankland says its introduction is a real milestone and hundreds of sites are already using it, including a few big names.

SHANKLAND: Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo all switched on IPv6 permanently. That means anybody with an IPv6 connection will get those websites over IPv6. So, it's now a lot more real.

MARTIN: For consumers, not much is changing is yet. It'll be a while before the entire Internet makes the move to IPv6. And in the meantime, users don't have to do anything except dream about what an Internet-connected refrigerator might do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

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