The future of our connected networks is Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). Not only is it more efficient and faster than IPv4 which we are currently working with, it is also more reliable and secure. The IPv6, for instance, has an in-built security protocol called IPSec, which authenticates and secures all IP data. The data carrying capacity of IPv6 networks is also going to be higher. This means that more devices with more features will be able to work seamlessly through these networks. Despite the larger load of information, IPv6 packets are easier to handle and route, just like postcards with pincodes in their addresses are easier to deliver than those without.
We have already seen great examples of successful implementation during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Every aspect from the security surveillance to managing vehicles and the coverage of the Olympic events was done over IPv6, including live streaming of the events over the Internet. The Chinese government, in fact, has already launched a ‘China Next Generation Internet’ (CNGI) project to build IPv6 networks which are going to radically change the face of high-speed internet in the country. With all these benefits available to us in this next generation protocol, the question that remains is why only a meagre 2% of the world’s internet traffic is conducted through it? Why haven’t more ISPs shifted to IPv6?
There are two very clear reasons. The first one is that of costs and infrastructure. The IPv6 platforms do not communicate easily with the IPv4 networks. We have the choice of a mammoth transition of all IPv4 websites and networks to new IPv6 protocols. This idea of abandoning IPv4 and moving to a new protocol is not only redundant; it is also futile, because IPv4 is already running the largest network in human history quite efficiently. What we need are translators which will be able to speak to both the different versions and help our devices work through them seamlessly. Older, more successful technologies have been able to do this. So, television, for instance, whether it receives terrestrial data, satellite images or data transferred via cable, is able to translate and render them into images and sounds which we can consume with ease. However, the translators for the IPv4 – IPv6 still expensive and we need more resources diverted towards making them affordable.
The second reason is linked to the first. In order for IPv6 to become popular, it needs a minimum threshold of service providers and users riding that network. As long as the deployment remains nascent, there will be no concentrated energy to actually try and make the bridges between versions 4 and 6. While global technology organisations like Tata Communications are ready for the transition, we are going to need a systemic change among all stakeholders to make IPv6 a reality, towards a faster, safer and more robust Internet.
Nishant Shah is Director-Research at the Bangalore based Centre for Internet and Society.
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