After years of hype, a handful of service providers are deploying IPv6 in the States

June 26, 2003

4 Min Read
IPv6 Coming to America

While Asia and Europe have made strides to switch to IPv6, the next-generation version of Internet Protocol (IP), the North American market has dragged its feet. But now it looks as though IPv6 is picking up steam in the U.S.

The move is being driven by carriers. Yesterday, NTT/Verio Inc., a subsidiary of NTT Communications Corp., announced that it will provide customers with one of the first commercial IPv6 services in the U.S. This announcement comes two weeks after the U.S. Department of Defense released a mandate saying that all of its Global Information Grid assets deployed as of October 1, 2003, must support IPv6. It also expects this gear to be compatible with existing IPv4 deployments.

“We're anticipating moving the department to the use of IPv6 in about 2008,” said John Stenbit, chief information officer for the DOD during a press briefing on June 13. “For us to even come close to doing that, we need to start to have people face the reality that we're going to do that and start to buy things now.

Verio’s service is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2003, but the carrier already has a pre-commercial offering deployed in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. Pre-commercial IPv6 tunneling service is also available for those customers that subscribe to Verio's conventional IPv4 services anywhere in the country. The carrier doesn’t expect widespread adoption immediately.

“We’re not saying that everyone in the U.S. needs to drop their IPv4 service today,” says Stan Barber, vice president of engineering operations in the broadband unit at Verio. “But we’re giving customers the option now to be part of a technology wave that will happen sometime during this decade.”

The service is to be demonstrated at the North American IPv6 Global Summit in San Diego this week. Verio is the official provider of IPv6 connectivity to the summit.

So what's IPv6 good for? Traditionally, the debate around IPv6 has revolved around addressing space. IPv6 extends the number of address bits from 32 in IPv4 to 128. This is important as more devices, like cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), gaming stations, and many other devices become IP-enabled.

Switching over to IPv6 can provide other benefits, too. Because there are no constraints on the number of IP addresses that can be allocated, network address translation doesn’t need to be used. NAT is typically used with IPv4 to dynamically allocate addresses to individual devices sitting behind a router in a LAN.

NAT solves the address availability issue, but it makes it more difficult to deliver certain security services, like end-to-end encryption. It also makes it more difficult to support remote users on a large network. IPv6 solves these problems.

Another potential benefit of IPv6 is that it includes a flow label field, which can be used to mark packets for quality of service. But definitions for this field haven’t been standardized yet, so it could be a while before customers actually see much benefit from it.

“Is the average guy dialing up to his ISP care if he is on an IPv4 network or an IPv6 network?” says Verio’s Barber. “No, but a large enterprise might have to think about it today.”

IPv6 also has some critics (see Poll Shows Divisions Over IPv6). Geoff Huston, chief scientist for Telstra Corp. argues that the only benefit that IPv6 has over IPv4 is the expanded address space. But he says it will take years before the IPv4 address field will be exhausted, since there are still 1.5 billion addresses unallocated.

Despite its detractors, IPv6 has already gained significant momentum in Europe and Asia, particularly in Japan where the government has mandated the use of IPv6 by 2005 (see Unknown Document 592974). The Japanese government has also offered tax incentives to companies that buy IPv6 gear to push this deployment. NTT has already been delivering a commercial IPv6 service throughout Asia/Pacific, including Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia, as well as Europe, including the U.K., the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Spain (see NTT Com Expands IPv6 Coverage).

Most equipment vendors have already gotten their gear ready for IPv6 demand. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) have added the functionality to their routers (see Cisco Upgrades Gear and Juniper Unveils IPv6 Routers).

Some startups, like TiMetra Networks and Vivace Networks, which are being acquired, respectively, by Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), say they won’t support IPv6 in the first release of their products (see Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal and Tellabs Snags Vivace for $135M). But they claim that the functionality is in the hardware, so that they can develop the feature through software later.

“If you don’t have it in your hardware now, you’re up the creek without a paddle,” says Mike Capuano, product marketing manager for the edge portfolio with Juniper. “Even though service providers in the U.S. aren’t deploying IPv6 yet, they want it on gear now.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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