IPv6 in Japan

Japan by the numbers

Population: 127,433,494

Percent of population with Internet access: 68.7

Percent of population with broadband access: 21.3

Total IPv4 addresses/world share: 141,624,000/3.8 percent

Lead government agency: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications


Table Sources: InternetWorldStats.com (population and percent with Internet access are from various sources, percent with broadband is from International Telecommunication Union); BGExpert.com, IPv4 addresses, compiling daily from regional Internet registries.

Regarded in IPv6 circles as the leader in deployment, also has the strongest motivation: the millions of cell phones, personal digital assistants and other devices its tech-savvy population famously demands. The push to Web-enable them has required the country to expand its available IP addresses, said Jun Murai, a professor of environmental information at Keio University, in a phone interview.

Murai is director of the Widely Integrated Distributed Environment (WIDE) Project, which he calls a loosely connected research consortium consisting of private and public-sector players in nearly equal numbers, some 250 in all, including a few outside . WIDE, which began in the mid-1980s as an effort to build IP networks among consortium members, started deploying IPv6 in the late 1990s, then hosting global IPv6 summits in . WIDE now distributes open-source code to companies that want to map their IPv4 addresses to IPv6.

"For the first 10 years, we didn’t take any government money," Murai said, because, "we didn’t want to be bound."

He said the group is, however, collaborating with the Japanese government on spectrum allocation, public-infrastructure issues surrounding street- and car-level IPv6, and encouraging Internet service providers to adopt the technology. 

Then Japanese prime minister gave the technology a major boost in 2000 when, at Murai’s urging, he specifically mentioned it in a speech. The government has since offered tax breaks to companies that switch to IPv6.

Regardless, service providers, notably market leader NTT, have made the biggest investments, in part because they need IPv6 not just for new mobile products but to push video and other IP services to consumers as part of their recent fiber-to-the-home broadband initiatives. 

"The large service providers in are absolutely deploying IPv6 addressing capability," said David West, director of the Center of Excellence at Cisco. "Most of them are deploying IPv6 because of addressing and space issues, but they’re also hoping to reap rewards" in the form of new products and services.

"If a provider wants to be able to push services to the phone, IPv6 is the logical choice. Each new subscriber provides a new revenue source,” he added.

George Hoffman, group manager of communications at IDC Japan, a division of the market research firm International Data Corp., has a similar take.

"IPv6 in the private sector — despite the hype since the late 1990s — is still in its early growth stage," Hoffman said. "I believe major IPv6 initiatives are being led by NTT group companies, including NTT East, NTT West and NTTCom. Both NTT E and NTT W provide native IPv6 Internet access for both business and consumer and video-on-demand IPv6 multicast services. Take-up has been slow." 

West, who has spent time in Japan, said government agencies, like the private sector, are cautiously awaiting useful applications, but they are planning intensively and future-proofing their infrastructure by beginning to upgrade it to IPv6.

"There’s not a lot of government applications and services overlaying IPv6, but what you see is a lot of RFPs mandating it," West said. "IPv6 is not a service, it’s not an application — it’s just a protocol. Most businesses, before they invest in any protocol, want to see a return on investment." 

Interestingly, Murai said, private-sector interest is crucial not just among Japanese companies, but ones.

"It’s very important that the business sector move to it, because they still have very strong global influence," he said.

Essex is a freelance technology writer.

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