IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

IPv6, M2M and the Internet of Things – The sky is the limit now

With the launch of IPv6 yesterday the internet of things is now unburdened by the previous restriction of IP addresses. The IPv4 system was limited to 4.3 Billion devices that could be directly connected to the internet. This sounds like a huge number but, if you consider that there are approximately 7 billion people on the planet that own an increasing number of things that could be connected, that 4.3 Billion was eventually going to be used up. IPv6 has the capability of handling 3.4 x 10 38 unique IP addresses so things should be pretty set forever. That is unless every person on the planet has 4.8 x 1028 directly connected devices.

In my opinion, the direct connectivity concept is going to be interesting for M2M because it simplifies connections. The key distinction is that previously the IPv4 did NOT limit the number of devices to 3.4 billion but it did limit the number of publically routable IP addresses to that number. At present, most devices do not have a publically routable IP address and therefore their connectivity has to be through firewalls and routers from the service provider and/or the local area network they are on. From a security perspective this is usually a good thing, but from a M2M perspective it was often a mixed bag of benefits and problems that often needed repetitive IT involvement.

In my personal experience, many of the most efficient machine connectivity ports and packet types would be routinely blocked by firewalls. This meant that any non-outbound connections needed extensive IT support and were typically one-off events. The next time you needed to connect that particular machine or another from outside the LAN it would be another IT project. This process typically discouraged on-the-fly connectivity and therefore killed a lot of the possible benefits, such as having an expert remotely troubleshooting a down machine. I saw some vendors that would convert the connectivity packets to the standard ports (80,443) and types (HTTP, SSL) used by browsers to subvert the IT firewalls but, even so, some firewalls were programmed to sniff out that kind of thing and kill the connection. At best, many of these types of machine connections were still limited to being outbound and a server was often needed to act as a proxy between machines.

Looking forward, this IPv6 means that routable IP addresses should become a lot more obtainable and, as a result, machines that do not need LAN access can be directly connected to the internet. The reverse side of that direct connectivity is that the machines will increasingly need to fend for themselves with respect to viruses, malware, and hackers. The VDC embedded hardware practice does not see that as much of a problem as compared to being an opportunity. In fact, the McAfee acquisition by Intel has resulted in antivirus capabilities being integrated near the core of the processor. We also see several companies such as INSIDE SecureIcon Labs, and Lantronix having interesting new products that can be added to existing machines or new ones being designed. These products will allow machine manufacturers to add connectivity and the necessary firewalls and encryption that may be needed in this brave new world where the sky is the limit with respect to the benefits that can be derived.