Task force seeks comments on switching to IPv6

A Commerce Department task force studying the deployment of the next generation of Internet Protocols is asking for public comment on the benefits, costs and status of moving to IPv6.

The Internet Protocols are a set of standards and rules used by computers and other devices to communicate. The current set, IPv4, has been in use for more than 20 years and movement is slowly beginning toward implementing the new set, IPv6.

Because of basic security shortcomings in IPv4 and possible improvements in IPv6, the task force was mandated under the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. The task force was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

One of the major advantages of the new protocols is an increase in the address space from 32 bits to 128 bits, which makes an exponentially greater number of IP addresses possible. Because the lion's share of IPv4 addresses has been assigned in North America, this feature has spurred adoption of IPv6 in Europe and Asia. Japan and South Korea plan to have IPv6 fully deployed by the end of this decade.

In the United States, the Defense Department plans to migrate its existing Global Information Grid Network to IPv6 by 2008.

In the request for comments in today's edition of the Federal Register, the task force seeks comments on:

  • The benefits and possible uses of IPv6

  • The costs of moving to IPv6

  • The current status of IPv6 deployment

  • The appropriate role of the U.S. government in deployment of IPv6.

  • Although experts predict that IP addresses will run out sometime in the next seven years, and there already are shortages in some parts of the world, technologies such as Network Address Translation have postponed the crisis. Many scientists deplore the use of NAT, but the task force points out that the technology may persist, even in an IPv6 environment, because it provides a degree of isolation, and protection, from the public Internet.

    But IPv6 itself could provide greater security. The IP Security Architecture, or IPSec, is an option in IPv4, but is a standard feature in IPv6.

    On the downside, the expanded header in IPv6 packets could conceivably degrade performance of voice over IP and other applications sensitive to latency. The cost of moving to a new hardware and software infrastructure will be great, and many networks will have to maintain parallel version 4 and version 6 infrastructures for years, possibly increasing costs, decreasing advantages and degrading network security.

    The proper role for government in pushing deployment of IPv6 is also in question. Although the IPv6 Forum has called DOD's decision to use the new protocols an important milestone, the task force notes that 'in most cases, reliance on the market tends to produce the most efficient allocations of resources, the greatest level of innovation and the maximum amount of societal welfare.'

    Possible governmental roles include acting as an information resource, using its purchasing power to push the technology, supporting R&D for IPv6, funding deployment and mandating IPv6 compliance from vendors.

    Comments, which should including five hard copies as well as electronic copies on disk or CD, are due by March 8 at the Office of Policy Analysis and Development, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Room 4725, Attention: Internet Protocol version 6 Proceeding, 1401 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20230. Electronic comments in ASCII, Corel WordPerfect or Microsoft Word format can be e-mailed to [email protected]

    The task force plans to hold a public meeting on the issue in the first half of 2004.

    About the Author

    William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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