Outlining advantages, an IPv6 leader urges U.S. adoption of the protocol

Network engineers for years have predicted an end to the supply of 32-bit addresses under the Internet Protocol Version 4, in use for more than two decades. Now the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers says the 200 million IPv4 addresses will definitely be exhausted around 2005.

The federal government should get serious about adopting the new IP Version 6 and avoid an expensive, last-minute rush for addresses, according to Latif Ladid, president of the international IPv6 Forum.

'I think the United States needs a national program,' said Ladid, a vice president of Danish company Ericsson Telebit A/S. 'This cannot be resolved through market forces only, it needs a road map. The last IPv4 address will be the most expensive address in the world.'

The successor protocol'a set of rules by which computers around the world communicate'has been in development for eight years. IPv6 networks can connect with and communicate over IPv4 networks by tunneling data in IPv4 packets.

Auditorium sized space

IPv6's promised advantages include more efficient routing, easier administration, better security, and more support for mobile and peer-to-peer computing. But the chief attraction is larger address space.

IPv4 uses a 32-bit space for each numerical address that identifies a networked device. The shortage of available addresses grows with the spread of mobile IP devices.

Efficiency of address use is only about 5 percent, meaning that up to 95 percent of the 4 billion theoretically possible IPv4 addresses may go unused, partly because they were awarded in large blocks to certain sites. Reassigning the unused numbers elsewhere is difficult.

Engineers have eked out the 32-bit address space by Network Address Translation'masking multiple devices behind a single IP address. The practice, however, can interfere with security and end-to-end applications.

The 128-bit IPv6 offers plenty of address space for the foreseeable future. Hardware manufacturers support the new protocol in their routers and servers. IPv6 test beds have been in operation since 1996. But applications using the protocol are still scarce, and most networks do not accommodate it.

Japan is farthest along in IPv6, having committed to adopt the new version by 2005, Ladid said.

'After 10 years of economic erosion, they see it as a way to jump-start their economy by exporting a new class of distributed, always-on, remotely managed network devices,' he said.

Across the puddle

Europe, where wireless devices are common, is developing a program for adopting IPv6. The European Union's Internet registry has allotted the most IPv6 address blocks, followed by Asia, with the American Registry for Internet Numbers coming in third.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in Charleston, S.C., was the first military organization to be allocated any IPv6 addresses, and SPAWAR has long promoted government adoption of the new protocol.

But the IPv6 Forum has said that 'the business case for IPv6 in the United States is not yet felt' because this country has the lion's share of current IPv4 addresses.

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