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Global effort to push Net protocol

June 30, 1999
Web posted at: 3:12 p.m. EDT (1912 GMT)

by James Niccolai

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- A worldwide effort to promote the adoption of IP Version 6 (IPv6) will be launched early next week, according to a source from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

More than 20 of the largest telecom providers and IT vendors from North America, Europe and Asia will announce the formation of the IPv6 Forum. The forum will be dedicated to raising awareness and speeding introduction of the new protocol, said the IETF source, who asked not to be identified.

The launch of the forum is tentatively scheduled for next week. The roster of members is still being finalized, but is likely to include British Telecom, L.M. Ericsson Telephone, Nokia, Telecom Italia, 3Com, Cisco, Microsoft, Hitachi and Nippon Telegraph & Telephone.
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Vint Cerf, chairman of the Internet Societal Task Force and a pioneer of the Internet's development, will be the group's honorary chairman, the statement said.

"This is not a standards body," the source said. "It's an attempt to drive adoption and raise awareness" of IPv6.

IPv6 has been on the radar of most large companies for some time. The global push to raise awareness of the new protocol indicates a new level of urgency among members of the Internet technical community to update one of the Internet's most fundamental technologies.

IPv6 is intended to solve a number of problems inherent in IPv4. For example, there is a need to create more IP addresses to meet the growing numbers of consumers and businesses jumping on the Internet, said Stan Schatt, a research director with Giga Information Group.

IPv4 uses a 32-bit address system, which in theory allows for more than four billion unique IP addresses. In reality, the actual number of addresses available is smaller because the system inefficiently allocates the addresses. IPv6 uses a 128-bit address system, which in theory will cater to trillions of Internet clients.

IPv6 has other benefits, including the ability to offer greater security for data traveling over the Internet, as well as better support for quality-of-service applications, real-time communications and better router performance, said Fred Baker, chairman of the IETF.

Baker wouldn't confirm that an IPv6 Forum is in the works, but said launching an effort now to raise awareness of IPv6 among businesses and consumers would make sense. Though the protocol has been around for years, its adoption by service providers has been slow.

Until customers become aware of the benefits of IPv6, they won't call on IT vendors and service providers to support the new protocol in their products, Baker said. And the industry won't embark on the task of implementing the new protocol until customers start asking for it.

"It's a major undertaking, and it doesn't do you any good unless both parties in an exchange are using it," Schatt observed.

The plan is to gradually introduce IPv6 over the next four to five years, while maintaining backward-compatibility in the network with software and network equipment that still uses the IPv4 standard, Baker said.

No one knows exactly when the supply of IP addresses will run out, although Baker, Schatt and others say there is no cause for alarm. Many businesses are working around the IP address shortage by assigning their own nonunique IP addresses within their networks, Baker and others said. The companies then use a program called "network address translator" to translate those proprietary IP addresses into ones recognizable on the public Internet.

But the network address translator is an obstacle to data that travels over a network, and in some cases the translator impedes certain types of applications from working at all, Baker said.

The problems with IPv4 stem largely from the fact that it was developed 20 years ago, at a time when the Internet was a much smaller medium that primarily served academic and government needs, rather than those of business and consumers.

A single standard hasn't been settled on for the new protocol. However, some vendors have already committed to development and testing projects.

Vendors including Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Sun have begun preparations to support IPv6 on desktops and servers, the working group said.

Next Generation Internet: A work in progress
June 18, 1999
Internet2 project poised for launch
February 15, 1999
Is the Internet dead?
October 27, 1998

Internet pioneer Cerf takes up a new cause
(Network World Fusion)
IETF working group seeks to improve security alerting
(Network World Fusion)
Telecom leaders team on wireless IP spec
(InfoWorld Electric)
IPv6 will change apps, servers (6/97)
(Network World Fusion)
Vinton Cerf sounds off on the Internet's next frontier
(PC World Online)
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IETF's IPv6 draft
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