Monday, January 03, 2005

Asia Builds a Bigger, Better Internet

You might be surprised to hear that the Internet as we know it has just about reached the end of its useful life. Shocking? It is. We tend to think of the Internet as a fairly recent invention and one that we have hardly started to exploit. How can it possibly be ready for replacement already? And with what?

The original Internet that was put in place back in the 1970's was never envisioned to become the commercial landscape that it is today. Back then it was used link universities, government agencies and some large businesses. Email was the big application. Web browsers were developed to share plain text documents, mostly for research and education. The infrastructure was designed to handle as much of this activity as anyone could dream of at the time.

The core of the Internet is its protocol, the standard that everyone uses to exchange data bits. Internet Protocol Version 4, IPV4 for short, was designed around a 32 bit address. That gives over 4 billion unique addresses. It sure seemed like enough when there were only hundreds and then thousands of computers and servers online. But, just like the original PC memory limitation of 640 Kilobytes seemed like more than enough for any word processing or spreadsheet programs, those 4 billion addresses look woefully shortsighted today.

Truth be told, we haven't run out of addresses yet. Workarounds such as NAT, or Network Address Translation, let dozens or hundreds of corporate workstations share a single IP address to the outside world. Demand for new IP addresses has actually been leveling out rather than accelerating for years. So why do China, Japan and Korea think it's time to shuck the old Internet protocol and base their infrastructure on the new IPV6 standard?

Upgrading to a new Internet protocol is something akin to upgrading to a new operating system. It adds capability including some that may not be immediately obvious. IPV6 increases the addressing bits from 32 to 128. Four times as much? Not four times as many addresses, four times as many bits. That's 2 to the 128th power or 3.4 dodecillion addresses in decimal. Look at it this way. Each square inch of the earth could have not only its own Internet address but billions of IP addresses.

Oh, come on. How many PCs can everyone on earth stack up on their desks anyway? It's not just computers for everyone that's the issue. It's cell phones, nanny cams, industrial robots, weather sensors, and Internet enabled refrigerators and washing machines, to name a few. What IPV6 does is give not just everybody but everything you can dream of its own unique IP address. It's an address that can be interconnected over the Internet to anything else directly. NAT causes problems with peer to peer applications like VoIP. That all goes away with IPV6.

What's being envisioned in Asia is a new Internet paradigm where intelligent mobile devices such as sophisticated cell phones, music players, digital radios, PDAs, automobiles, electronic sensors, cash registers, pop machines, appliances and industrial machines will be more dominant than PCs and web page servers.

China's recently announced plans to build six IPV6 networks with 3 supporting their university network and 3 supporting telecom operators should not be taken lightly by those of us in North America and Europe. This is the beginning of a sea change in technology application that soon be sweeping us all into new exciting times.

You can learn more about IPV6 at Wikipedia or get a competitive price quote on high speed network connections for your business at T1 Rex.

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