The language of the Internet, used by data communications equipment to speak to each other — so that all of the pieces in the chain of Internet-related communications know where and how to send information.
Also an acronym that does not transfer gracefully into spoken language. Example (say this aloud): “It seems like IP everywhere.”
But yet, it does seem like IP everywhere. Internet Protocol is the language of cable modems, DSL modems, and an increasing number of digital set-top boxes (such as those that contain a DOCSIS or other IP-based communications path). Some telephone services travel in IP, which is why it’s called “voice over IP.”
The reason why IP remains a hot topic is its stance as the “next big thing” that will bring incremental revenues. It’s easy to carry on wide pipes; everybody who interacts on the Internet uses it; and there are piles of credible data- and telco-equipment manufacturers building for it.
Plus, software companies are ceaselessly coming out with new IP applications that will mostly run better on broadband IP networks: Video telephony, videoconferencing and second-line or full-home phone service, carried on the TV or the personal computer, are all part of the potential IP-service mix.
Technically, IP is a subset of a longer protocol, known as TCP/IP, or transmission-control protocol/Internet protocol. TCP/IP is a package of different rules that define how data move from one network layer to another. There are five different layers, and they all count toward the end game, which is moving data around so that they’re all in one piece at their target destination.
Just as protocol in the etiquette sense provides guidelines on how to behave in certain situations — to say “please,” and to push in your chair when you leave the table — IP is a set of rules that tells data hardware how to behave. It’s part procedure, part practice and part policy.
Mostly, IP puts addresses on packets of data. In a high-speed-data network, for example, cable modems and DSL users are identified by their IP addresses. IP doesn’t mind the data to make sure that they safely get to another destination. That’s on the chore list of a different, but related, protocol: TCP.
Historically, IP is frequently heralded as the brainchild of the U.S. Department of Defense, which during the Cold War wanted a way to communicate even if major communications hubs were bombed. The idea was to take a message, chop it into smaller pieces (packets), and send the packets over completely different routes to the destination. Thus, each packet needed to be self-sufficient, knowing its source and destination. At the destination, the packets could be reassembled and read.
That design goal necessitated the inclusion of lots of “header information,” to make the packet self-sustaining. A typical IP packet contains 32 bits (4 bytes) of header info, including source and destination, among other things.
Usage: The pervasiveness of the Internet, and its IP baseline, will only continue to entwine itself into voice, video and data techniques for the foreseeable future.