Mobile Access Drives IPv6
Today, Cisco announced the availability of Phase II of its IPv6 rollout in Cisco IOS software (see Cisco Upgrades Gear). These features build on Cisco's previous release in May 2001 and provide more integration between the current IPv4 and IPv6. Last week, Juniper announced support for IPv6 across all of its routers (see Juniper Unveils IPv6 Routers). Both companies have cited mobile usage and growing deployments in Asia as the drivers.
Cisco and Juniper are the latest companies to announce support and enhancements for IPv6. Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) and NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY) both announced support back in October (see Foundry Routers Get IP Infusion and NEC Launches 'BlueFire'). Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN) says it's on its roadmap for next year.
The fact that equipment vendors are starting to roll out products supporting IPv6 signifies that customer demand is reaching critical mass.
“I think the decision of these vendors to offer IPv6 is driven by customer demand,” says David Newman, president of Network Test Inc. “There is a lot of next-generation wireless deployment in Asia right now, and if there are enough customers asking for IPv6 the vendors will provide it. They are technology agnostic; they just go where the money is.”
IPv6 is in demand because it provides more addressing space, security enhancements, and network management. IPv4 is able to accommodate about four billion addresses, while IPv6 could potentially support billions more, according to a Cisco spokesperson.
While there are currently enough IP addresses, the advent of new Internet-enabled devices like Web phones and Internet-ready, hand-held devices will cause the current scheme to eventually run out. According to analyst firms like IDC, over the next three years the number of mobile Internet users could jump as high as 400 million.
Asia, which is exploding with Internet mobile users, has become a hotbed for early adoption of IPv6. Mobile Internet usage in the region is estimated to be up 52 percent in 2000 from 1999, according to Gartner/Dataquest. By 2003, Gartner estimates, more than one billion users will be using cell phones worldwide.
“We are currently beta testing IPv6 in 20 beta sites across all geographies,” says Kevin Dillon, director of product marketing for Juniper. “But demand seems to be greatest in Asia right now, where there is a lot of mobile Internet usage.”
While Asia seems to be leading the pack in deployments, Europe isn’t far behind, he adds. But in its early phases of deployment, IPv6 is mostly being deployed in research networks like SURFnet5's (see Cisco Powers IPv6 in Europe). France Telecom SA Research and Development and GIP Renater, in Europe, and 6TAP, in the U.S., are using Juniper’s IPv6 technology.
But IPv6 is not without its problems. Because the address field of IPv6 is so much larger than IPv4, it will result in extremely large routing tables that could be difficult to manage, says Network Test’s Newman. But Juniper’s Dillon says current routing tables have about 100,000 routes, and Juniper’s tables can handle three to five times that amount.
”I think that issue may prove not to be as big a problem as everyone makes it out to be,” says Dillon.
The other issue is the integration of IPv6 into the existing IPv4 infrastructure. Cisco’s Phase II and Juniper’s implementation both use Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) tunneling to transport IPv6 traffic over existing IPv4 networks. But critics say this solution won’t scale for large deployments. Newman says tunneling adds complexity and overhead to the network, which can degrade network performance.
“Regardless of technology -- if it's IPv6, IPv4, or tin cans and piano wire -- if it doesn’t scale and provide a 10-times improvement in cost, it won't go anywhere,” says Newman.
Juniper says that its IPv6 is built into its latest ASICs. Dillon asserts that performance is not affected by the use of IPv6. He also says that both IPv4 and IPv6 will ship in the current software, allowing customers the ability to use both.
According to Cisco, its Phase II version integrates IPv6 with the IPv4-based Internet by providing protocol translation between the newer version and the existing protocol. There is also still more to come from Cisco. Phase III of its IPv6 rollout, which will roll out next year, will include native support for the OSPF routing protocol for large-scale deployments and hardware-accelerated IPv6 forwarding on the Cisco 12000 Series Internet Router.
Juniper’s IPv6 is now available on all of its routers: the M5, M10, M20, M40, and M160. Cisco's IPv6 Phase II rollout is only available now for limited deployment, with wider availability scheduled in the first half of 2002. Platforms supported at this time include Cisco's 800, 1400, 1600, 1700, 2500, 2600, 3600, 7100, 7200, and 7500 Series Routers and its 12000 Series Internet Routers.
Support for Catalyst 6500, an enterprise box, and Cisco 7600 Series edge routers, is planned to be available with a future release of Cisco IOS Software.
While most people agree that IPv6 won’t overtake IPv4 for some time, it’s fast becoming a necessary feature in closing deals, especially in Asia and Europe.
“If you’re going to compete for business for mobile and gaming networks,” says Dillon. “IPv6 is table stakes.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading