Advocacy group to drive next-gen IP protocol

An industry body has been formed to educate users about and promote awareness of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

The IPv6 Forum wants to show off the benefits of the protocol, including end-to-end security, quality of service and support for embedded devices.

IPv6 is the next iteration of the Internet communications protocol.

"The biggest detriment to IPv6 has been ignorance" on the part of vendors and users, said Latif Ladid, forum president and head of Telebit Communications in Denmark.

He admits that switching over from current IPv4 implementations will take time, but he said it's better to do that now, before IPv4 begins to fail. Already IPv4's limitations are inhibiting the rollout of security on mobile devices, because they require unique IP addresses, of which IPv4 is running low.

So far, 37 companies have signed on to participate in the forum, including such heavyweights as 3Com, Cisco, Microsoft, Nokia, Sprint, Ericsson and Nippon Tele-phone and Telegraph.

To join the forum, companies must pledge to create IPv6 products and support the technology's widespread adoption.

The forum expects to see IPv6-enabled products, such as IPv4 to IPv6 transition applications and router upgrades, make their way into user networks as early as next year.

The forum will be working in tandem with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which will meet later this month.

"The IETF working group's charter is to set a protocol," Ladid said. "Once that work is done, the group is folded." The forum will be a consistent advocate for IPv6 in the marketplace, while the IETF continues to tackle the technology issues.

The IETF has been concerned about the take-up of the protocol, but a lot of that is concerned with vendor hardware cycles, said Glen Turner, network engineer for Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet).

Turner said it was likely AARNet would establish a "protocol experimentation network" later this year. AARNet would migrate to an IPv6 network as hardware becomes available for it, he said.

Turner said IPv6 should be "quite reliable by the end of this year".

The new standard addresses minor issues with current protocol IPv4, Turner said, including fragmentation. IPv6 also optimises the layout of the IPv4 packet so it is optimised for transfer, he said.

Additionally, the new protocol supports multicast scoping, which is a boon for Internet broadcasters such as the ABC. Turner explained multicasting replicates packets in the network, instead of the server, which means the host needs only send one stream per channel vs a stream for every listener. He said that means the ABC could host its streaming services from a 486 personal computer instead of large servers.

The IETF has already tried to generate momentum for the protocol, but to no avail. Except for research test beds, such as the 6bone network that vendors are using to test interoperability, the protocol has seen little use. Instead, users have embraced workarounds for IPv4, such as IP Security, Multi-protocol Label Switching and Differentiated Services. And, if users aren't beating down the door for services, vendors are hesitant to invest the time and money to develop the gear.

3Com CEO Eric Benhamou said his company has developed IPv6-enabled products, "but customers haven't turned [IPv6] on". He said the killer application for IPv6 will be mobile devices. Today's IP address space is too complicated to support mobile users, he said, so companies need to move to IPv6.

Ladid agreed, adding that the lure of IPv6 will prove too great for even reluctant users. There are applications that can't be rolled out because of IPv4's limitations.

For instance, with IPv6's built-in quality of service, network managers will be able to automatically and intelligently allocate bandwidth so that users only pay for what they use.

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