Microsoft has revealed new details about the changes to its Xbox One network architecture, including improvements to its Peer to Peer (P2P) based multiplayer component and claims that the adoption of IPv6 Internet addresses should make the system faster and more secure (IPsec). But you’ll need a compatible broadband ISP in order to benefit.
The new video game and media centre console, which recently did a U-turn on its initially restrictive always-on style Internet connectivity and pre-owned game requirements (here), is due to hit the shelves on 22nd November 2013 and as a result Microsoft has been keen to talk about some of the networking changes since their previous Xbox 360.
Microsoft’s Chris Palmer told the NANOG 59 event in Phoenix (Arizona, USA) on Wednesday that the Xbox One would, among other things, support IPv6 Internet addresses over an enhanced version of its Peer-to-Peer (P2P) based communication and multiplayer service. The new platform also supports the Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) standard, which secures Internet Protocol (IP) communications via a mix of enhanced authentication and encryption.
Apparently all of this will be wrapped around the Teredo transition technology, which effectively allows older IPv4 based Internet addresses to communicate with the latest IPv6 standard. Most of you reading our article will currently be using IPv4 because most ISPs have yet to adopt IPv6.
Every device that connects to the internet (e.g. your home broadband router) is seamlessly assigned an IP address by your ISP, which helps to identify your connection to other online services (e.g. websites, Skype etc.). Think of this as being a bit like a phone number for internet capable hardware and software, which is essential if you want to use online services.
Since its inception, in 1984, the internet has used the Internet Protocol v4 (IPv4) standard, which looks a little bit like this: 18.104.22.168 (four number groupings). Unfortunately IPv4 is limited to approximately 4.3 billion addresses, which began to run out when the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) allocated its remaining address blocks to the worlds five Regional Internet Registry’s (RIR) in February 2011.
The Internet Protocol v6 (IPv6) standard was created to replace IPv4; its addresses are significantly longer (128bits), written in hexadecimal, separated by colons and more secure by design (IPSec). An IPv6 address, in its longest form, might look a little bit like this: 2001:cdba:0000:0000:0000:0000:2257:9652 (note: this can be reduced down to 2001:cdba::2257:9652). Plus with around 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses to spare, nobody is going to run short any time soon.
According to Palmer, the Xbox One’s support for IPv6 means that the system will deliver lower latency connections (i.e. multiplayer games will have less lag), be more secure (IPsec) and operate faster. We suspect that “faster” reference is really just a reflection of the latency improvement because IPv6 itself won’t have any noticeable impact on your physical connection speed.
In fact the Xbox One’s latency improvement is just as likely to be helped by using the latest networking chipsets and standards as it is by IPv6 itself. The difference won’t be that huge but then hard-core gamers can easily get fussy over a few milliseconds (ms) here or there. The only problem is that to really benefit you will of course need to be connecting with a broadband ISP that supports IPv6.
One benefit of IPv6 with IPsec is the promise of simple peer to peer (P2P) connectivity between end-user devices on the Internet. Xbox One is an attempt to realize that promise, with our P2P stack leveraging Internet standards.
Network operators that want to provide the best possible user experience for Xbox One users:
• Provide IPv6 Connectivity
• Allow transition technologies such as Teredo to function
• Allow for IPsec transport mode to function
Unfortunately consumer ISP support for native IPv6 is still fairly feeble and it’s practically none existent among the markets largest providers, which continue to sell their home connectivity services based primarily upon an IPv4 solution. This is because IPv4 and IPv6 aren’t directly compatible and so to support both (IPv4 will still be around for a long time to come) the ISP would need to adopt a dual stack network, which is expensive. On top of that support for IPv6 among consumer broadband routers and devices remains patchy.
So if you want IPv6 then you’ll have to look at the smaller end and towards providers like AAISP, which usually offer a significantly higher quality of service and support but you’ll also have to pay a bit extra for the privilege. Admittedly Microsoft might be overstating the raw performance benefits of IPv6 a bit but at least the technology is getting some more air time and eventually we’ll all be using it.
We still don’t know if Sony’s rival PlayStation 4 (PS4) console supports IPv6 but we’d be surprised if it didn’t, especially given the lengthy lifespan of such devices.