Europe begins its move toward IPv6

The European Community is in a slow transition to Version 6 of the Internet Protocols, searching for ways to ensure international interoperability and advance mobile networking.

The process is likely to be drawn out because of the number of nations involved, according to Ulf Dahlsten, director of the European Commission's Directorate General for Information, Society and Media.

'This is about looking after national interests,' Dahlsten told the audience at the Coalition Summit for IPv6, which is wrapping up today in Reston, Va. Asian governments, which are behind Western countries in infrastructure and IP address space, are pushing for rapid transition to the new protocols. 'That's the pressure they are under,' Dahlsten said. 'We aren't feeling that pressure yet.'

In this country, only the Defense Department has announced concrete plans to move IT infrastructure to IPv6. In Europe, pilot programs are under way in NATO and the European Commission to explore the capabilities of the new technology.

One of the advantages of IPv6 is the expanded address space, which allows the elimination of network address translation (NAT) that acts as a block to mobile and peer-to-peer networking in IPv4 networks, said Tony Hain of Cisco Systems Inc. NAT devices translate private range addresses within a network that is not routable on the Internet to routable IP addresses. But they can only handle outbound connections and returning inbound traffic. They cannot handle inbound connections without administrative configuration.

'This is not a good situation for billions of devices being connected,' Hain said.

NATO is experimenting with IPv6 mobile area networks in which each mobile node is a router. The German army has equipped 10 vehicles with notebook computers that use an amplified wireless LAN to communicate. A gateway vehicle provides a link to a satellite ground station for Internet connectivity.

Wolfgang Fraitsche, manager of IP services for a German think tank and analysis company established by the German Ministry of Defense, said the army plans next year to expand the mobile network to 20 vehicles, with embedded PCs and an onboard network on each vehicle. Several vehicles will have direct satellite connections and act as mobile groundstations.

The European Commission is experimenting with Reconfigurable Ubiquitous Networked Embedded Systems in a three-year, 10.7 million Euro (roughly $13.5 million) program. The embedded networks include household sensors for monitoring maintenance and meter reading. Sensors in automobiles could also be networked so information about traffic and road conditions could be shared between vehicles.

'There is a big potential for improving traffic efficiency and safety if the cars are able to communicate with each other,' Fritsche said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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