(From the very beginning, I’ll acknowledge that this is one of my geekier posts.) At the very top of the list of coolest ‘net-related things I’ve seen this month is the EarthLink R&D project offering a full-fledged IPv6-supported network to anyone who wants to play in their sandbox. The fact that an EarthLink lab has worked on this, and released this, makes me happy that there are still people using easily-accessible tools to push at the edges of the internet.

For those who are technically-inclined, you probably already know what this means; for those who aren’t, let me offer a short explanation. Right now, every computer that can be accessed on the public internet has a unique address, and there are around 4.3 billion “available” addresses. The reason for the quotation marks, though, is that this is a theoretical maximum, and the reality is that about half of these addresses aren’t available for use, which means that there’s an ever-present worry that we will run out of addresses to use on the internet. One solution to this problem is a new method of addressing internet-enabled devices, a method called IPv6, and with it comes the ability to support 340 undecillion addresses (or 3.4 x 1038 addresses, or 340 billion billion billion billion, addresses — which is enough for 670 quadrillion addresses per cubic millimeter of the Earth’s surface). Since we have somewhere around a decade before the need to move to IPv6 becomes urgent, though, it’s not yet in widespread use on the internet.

What EarthLink’s R&D project allows you to do today is buy a Linksys wireless router, download a custom firmware for the router, sign up for an account, and set up your own IPv6 network lickety-split. And the cool thing is that the wireless router will continue to protect the network from access from the outside on the old-style network (the one addressed using the old scheme), but will let you configure full access via the new addressing scheme — which means that you can set up public servers! That’s just cool.

I don’t have a router on which to play with this quite yet, so I’ll be interested to hear other peoples’ experiences. Perhaps in the next week or two, I’ll justify playing a bit myself as well…