IPv4 versus IPv6 Geolocation: Accuracy and Other FAQs Answered
Every Internet-connected device is identifiable through its IP address. In fact, many organizations employ IP geolocation (through a geolocation database download, an API or web service) for several business purposes, including marketing, fraud prevention, cybercrime investigation, and more. However, many argue that IP geolocation is not accurate. This post seeks to clear the cobwebs regarding that, and explain the uses of IP geolocation data.
What Are the Types of IP Addresses?
IP addresses come in two types—IPv4 and IPv6. Despite the introduction of IPv6 addresses in 2017, though, IPv4 addresses still remain more commonly used.
IPv4 Address :
An IPv4 address is a 32-bit number that uniquely identifies a device on the Internet. The number of bits in an IP address refers to the number of pathways a system can take to reach it. In an IPv4 address’s case, users can take 32 pathways to reach the device that the IP address points to.
An IPv4 address is typically written in decimal digits, ranging from 0 to 255. It is a set of four numbers separated by periods. That said, it can be any number between 0.0.0.0 and 255.255.255.255.
IPv6 Address :
An IPv6 address is a 128-bit number. It has eight 16-bit fields separated by colons. Each field must contain a hexadecimal number.
Many but not all companies have begun transitioning to IPv6 addresses. That could primarily stem from study results saying tracking IPv6 addresses remained significantly less accurate than pinning down IPv4 address users.
There are, however, various reasons why the move to the IPv6 space may be necessary. Here are some of them:
- The IPv6 address space is way bigger than the IPv4 one –
The main difference between IPv4 and IPv6 addresses is that there are far more IPv6 addresses than IPv4 ones. There are only around 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses as opposed to about 340.3 undecillion IPv6 addresses. In fact, IPv6 addresses were created because of fears that the world is running out of IP addresses for the ever-growing number of Internet users.
- IPv6 gives users better connectivity –
Due to the bigger IPv6 address space, it does not require network address translation (NAT) to provide end-to-end connectivity, making peer-to-peer (P2P) applications work better. Users will not suffer from lags or bad connections, making IPv6 faster than IPv4.
- IPv6 can be autoconfigured –
IPv6 has simple mechanisms that allow users to automate configuration. It has a plug-and-play auto-configuration feature that is not available in IPv4.
Why the Concerns about IP Geolocation Database Accuracy?
The accuracy of geolocation databases has always been a hot topic of conversation. No matter how well a vendor gathers data, any IP geolocation database can still be riddled with inaccuracies. We listed some arguments as to why below.
- Only accurate at the country level –
Recent statistics show, for instance, that IP geolocation data can be as much as 99.99% accurate at the country level and roughly 60-70% at the city level.
- IPv4 more accurate than IPv6 due to volume –
Research revealed that IPv4 address information is more precise than that for IPv6 addresses. That could be due primarily to differences in their volume. The vast number of IPv6 addresses could be affecting their accuracy as some have suggested. Studies have, however, shown that is not exactly the case. What matters is the data sources that an IP geolocation API vendor uses. One particular study found that IPv4 or IPv6 address databases differ much in terms of accuracy because IPv6 databases are not developed enough to be as accurate as IPv4 repositories.
- IPv4 more precise than IPv6 due to usage differences –
Another reason could be the lack of usage of IPv6 addresses for now, which might be hampering the development of better databases. The researchers tested various geolocation database downloads for the accuracy of their country-level geolocation data and found that compared to IPv4 addresses that are 90% accurate at the country level, IPv6 addresses are only 40–60% accurate.
- Device type could be a problem –
Another reason for inaccuracy has to do with the type of device an IP address belongs to. An IP address assigned to a desktop may naturally be more accurate than that pointing to a laptop or mobile phone. A desktop doesn’t normally get transferred from one place to another, making its geolocation more accurate. A laptop or mobile device, on the other hand, can point to several locations, depending on where its user is at the time it was used.
All that said, you may need to keep in mind that IP geolocation provides an approximation of where users are, specifically at the time when they accessed a website. But that doesn’t render geolocation information unhelpful. The data from mobile devices, for instance, can tell companies which areas their customers frequent. For brick-and-mortar establishment owners, IP geolocation data can help with guiding their customers toward your store to buy products.
Which Database Should You Use?
The kind of IP geolocation database (regardless of type of IP address it contains) does not matter as much as how many IP addresses it contains. The database you should use depends more on what type of IP addresses your website visitors and customers have. While most users still have IPv4 addresses, many organizations have also started using IPv6 addresses. Also, note the difference in the accuracy for the two IP address types. Given all that, you should use a geolocation database download that contains information on both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
Geolocation Database Download Enables Content Personalization :
Marketers primarily use geolocation database download data for content personalization. They obtain website visitors’ and customers’ IP addresses to know where they are from. Knowing their origin countries can help marketers customize the content they see (language, currency, and products) every time they access the site. Content personalization lessens the need for translators (Google Translate) and currency converters. Products and offers (e.g., sale, discounts, coupons, etc.) can match their current season (i.e., summer, winter, autumn, or spring, making them feel more welcome and thus patronize the brand more.
Geolocation Database Download Helps with Fraud Prevention :
E-commerce sites can also use IP geolocation data to ensure that transactions are truly being made by the real account owners. If IP addresses are part of their customer database, they can use these as an additional means to check the authenticity of every sales transaction, preventing fraud.
Geolocation Database Download Beefs Up Cybersecurity :
Finally, IT teams can investigate attack sources by tracking down who owns the IP addresses connected to it. Errant IP addresses can be used as starting points for an investigation. They can also be used as inputs for Domain Name System (DNS) queries, which will give IT teams a list of domain names they’re attached to. WHOIS searches may then reveal who the domain owners are, which could point to the potential attack perpetrators.
Attention reader! Don’t stop learning now. Get hold of all the important CS Theory concepts for SDE interviews with the CS Theory Course at a student-friendly price and become industry ready.