David Morris – Originally Published August 22, 2008
As the 2008 Olympic Games are broadcast around the world, one little known Olympic feat wasn’t performed by any athlete, but by China’s Next Generation Internet project (CNGI). CNGI launched a cornucopia of fixed and mobile broadband technologies over the new Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) to demonstrate China’s technological advancement to the world. With government mandates and subsidies supporting IPv6 transition in China, South Korea, and Japan, as well as skyrocketing Internet use in those regions, the question is will China and the rest of Asia leapfrog America and Europe in advanced communication technologies.
As a little history, the use of Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is nearly ubiquitous. However, there are numerous problems with IPv4, as Internet usage grows. IPv4 uses a 32-bit address, which limits the number of routable addresses to about 4.2 billion (2^32). With the world population at nearly seven billion, Internet-ready device proliferation and Internet usage are growing daily; IPv4 is straining to keep up. At current usage rates, the IP pool will likely be depleted by mid-2011. With a combination of network address translation (NAT) and port address translation (PAT) tricks, most ISPs, mobile phone companies, corporations, and home networks use NAT/PAT to setup non-routable “private” addresses to extend and share a single external IPv4 address. NAT has helped extend the life of IPv4; however, NAT/PAT complicates network deployments, architectures, and configurations.
Assuming a blank slate, most architects would choose a more elegant solution. NAT/PAT is a stop-gap measure employed simply due to the limitations of IPv4, and it has several adverse side effects. Since the translation process is complex mathematics calculations, the conversion process is processor and memory intensive, which slows a router’s primary purpose, routing packets. With translation, routing tables and configuration become more complex and challenging to deploy. Since most NAT deployments are stateful instead of stateless, it reduces network resiliency. It also increases the probability of a user’s session interruption. If the NAT gateway fails for any reason, all state information is lost, and the user’s connection must be reset. With more sophisticated routing and translation complications, NAT/PAT has inherent trace and tracking challenges, which complicate security breach identification, tracking, and resolution. Lastly, some applications use the original IP address itself, which causes a mismatch between the original address and the new NAT/PAT address. This often causes the application to fail or get confused. However, with all the IPv4 challenges, it has delivered a revolution in communications. But, IPv6 is poised to make an even more significant impact.
Why is China and the rest of Asia deploying IPv6? The US has a population of approximately three hundred million (about 5% of the world’s population) and has been allocated about 57% of the total IPv4 addresses. Asia has a population of approximately 3.5 billion or 56% of the world population, but it only has 14% of the total IPv4 addresses. China alone has an allocation of only sixty million IP addresses for over 1.4 billion, an oversubscription per person by a factor of twenty-three. This mismatch in people to IP address ratio has raised eyebrows in Asia and has spurred significant motivation for an IPv6 transition. Over the last decade, Japan, China, and South Korea have made it a national mandate move to IPv6, primarily out of necessity and perhaps as an attempt to leapfrog over other nations.
For the 2008 Olympics, China flexes its technological muscle, debuts IPv6, and, perhaps, gains first-mover advantage. To reframe China’s image from the world leader in manufacturing to a center for technological advancement, the 2008 Olympic Games are the most significant usage ever of IPv6 broadband and mobile services in history. With Netcom as the official Olympic service provider, all thirty-seven venues, TV broadcast systems, and security systems are connected to the high-speed optical backbone to provide full and simultaneous event coverage. The cornucopia of IPv6 applications and technologies include GSM/EDGE, WiFi/WiMAX, TD-SCDMA, McWILL, high definition TV, VPN, mobile ticketing, video streaming, mobile blogging, mobile TV advertising, leased lines, security, and surveillance and broadband access. The security system alone is the culmination of eight years of effort, and it supports over one hundred thousand control and sensor units from a central control management system. It is coupled with integrated building control and management system that controls temperature, lighting, etc. of all the Olympic venues. With IPv6 sensors throughout Beijing, even taxi service and traffic congestion will be monitored and eliminated quickly to enhance the Olympic experience and demonstrate China’s dedication to technology advancement. The Olympic experience delivers a dedicated network to provide high-speed connectivity for organizers, hotels, and media with smart card access, so there is no wasted time worrying about those pesky usernames and passwords. China has spent significant time and effort, making its Olympic debut. It is now the largest repository of hands-on IPv6 knowledge and experience on the planet. The judge’s score is a resounding “10.0”.
But why is it a big deal? With IPv4 addresses in short supply and running out, the writing is on the wall; IPv6 is the future. The above IPv4 NAT/PAT challenges are all resolved with IPv6 deployment. With IPv6, the number of IP addresses expands to 2^128, which is enough IP addresses for every person on earth today to have over five billion trillion addresses apiece (technically ~5×10^28 apiece). This means that every internet-ready device from mobile phones to refrigerators will have its unique identifier. IPv6 will eschew in a new era of smart connected devices and deliver all new IPv6 enabled services and applications. With Quality of Service flow label built into the IPv6 header, different classes of service for different devices and applications will be possible. Quality of service will, in the future, delineate your children’s World of Warcraft session will not interrupt your work Video Conference, finally. Security and encryption is an integral part of IPv6, which increases its overall robustness. The most debated question is the new uses and applications that will be based on IPv6. What is the IPv6 “killer app”? We don’t know today. As IPv6 deployment increases, more programmers and engineers will pour over the specifications and develop creative and innovative ways of leveraging the new capabilities contained within the protocol. I believe that we will see a new round of startup companies in the network and application space that are focused on leverage IPv6’s potential to deliver new innovative services and applications.
China is in a unique position because it is starting to build out its infrastructure and does not have a high sunk cost in capital equipment, unlike North America and Europe. So, China can build its network with newer, more advanced technologies more quickly and easily, which offers its engineers and programmers an enormous first-mover advantage and opportunity to gain a hands-on understanding of IPv6’s intricacies. In North America, the only real mandate for IPv6 is the U. S. Government. Although the US mandate called for a migration to IPv6, it provided no budget to accomplish it. Only the Social Security Administration, the White House, and a couple of other Agencies have implemented IPv6; all others are behind. On the whole, the US and Europe haven’t embraced IPv6.
With the whole world watching, one of the greatest Olympic feats of all history is China’s IPv6 deployment. With a spectrum of fixed and mobile technologies and applications, CNGI has delivered the Games crowning jewel and solidified China’s position as an emerging technology leader. The big question is will China and the rest of Asia leverage their head start in advanced communications to take the global leadership position. As always, only time will tell.
David Morris – MorrisBytes