IPv6: How the rest of the world lives

In most countries, telecommunications providers drive the bus, but governments fuel the engine with research and financial assistance.

Outside the United States, IPv6 deployment appears to be farthest along in countries where expected dramatic spikes in the number of IP-enabled devices will clearly outstrip the number of IPv4 addresses.
It seems to matter little if the hardware explosion is ignited by demographic shifts — China is the premiere example — or a technology-driven demand for more devices from a stable population, as in Japan. What both have in common is the vision of the next-generation Internet now coming into focus, where everything from pocket videophones to airport kiosks to building heat sensors and plain-old desktop PCs are linked together in a vast broadband network.

As U.S. federal agencies prepare to meet the June 2008 mandate to ensure their network backbones are IPv6 compliant, it can be instructive to see what roles foreign governments have played in promulgating the new standard.

Interestingly, the emphasis overseas has been on strong, long-term public/private cooperation — the carrot rather than the stick, with surprisingly few reaching for the hammer of a government mandate. And sources familiar with overseas developments report that despite public-sector successes, companies are struggling as much as their North American counterparts to build a business case for IPv6 investments. Vendors say the lack of compelling applications and services for customers results in a classic chicken-and-egg problem

Federal Computer Week looked at developments in three countries representing a wide range of IPv6 development and deployment.

Others deserve mention, not least of which is up-and-comer India, which expects explosive growth in mobile users — as many as half a billion users by 2010, according to network infrastructure vendor Cisco.

Taiwan, which recently distributed IPv4-to-IPv6 translation hardware for seven of its biggest Internet service providers and installed IPv6 voice-over-IP phones for thousands of government users, maintains separate development projects for key device and user categories, such as cars, campuses and personal electronics, according to Bruce Sinclair, chief executive officer of Hexago, a Montreal maker of IPv6 gateways.

"They have one of the most detailed IPv6 plans that I’ve ever seen," Sinclair said.

In South Korea, another Asian IPv6 hotbed, Korea Telecom, which is a major purchaser of Hexago’s gateways, recently began an IPv6 trial, and the government has helped fund pilot programs offered by ISPs and municipalities.

Still, as with many geopolitical issues these days, all eyes are on China.

"China is the only country that has more people than IP addresses," said Jun Murai, a Japanese IPv6 expert, nicely summing up the quandary of this fast-developing country, largest in the world with 1.3 billion people.

For several years, the Chinese government has provided funding for IPv6 promotional councils and task forces. Most significantly, it has begun building the IPv6 based China Next Generation Internet in partnership with major providers.

"The big driver for IPv6 in China for us has been the Olympics," Sinclar said, noting that the country has bought Hexago gateways as part of its infrastructure upgrades for this year’s summer games in Beijing.

It’s clear that although most experts expect the future Internet to be built on IPv6, no one expects it to happen anytime soon. The market rules, despite the efforts of governments worldwide to push it in the direction of IPv6.

Essex is a freelance technology writer.

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