Means needed to connect IPv6 islands

Islands of next generation Internet protocol (IP) IPv6 will emerge within the next two to three years with the deployment of 3G networks, said Bob Brace, vice-president of Nokia Corp.’s global mobile solutions. And the need for enterprise networks to connect to these IPv6 islands will impact buying decisions that are being made now.

IPv6 is a new version of IP which is designed to be an evolutionary step from IPv4. Brace said companies could face a “very huge issue” when migrating to IPv6, not least of all because the exercise would involve upgrading devices to IPv6.

Winston Seah, program director of Internet Technologies at the Institute for Communications Research (ICR), said replacement of the existing IPv4 protocol by IPv6 will have an impact on upper layers of the protocol stack. “Most application protocols will have to be upgraded, for example, FTP (file transfer protocol), SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) and Telnet.”

Despite these difficulties, IPv6 implementation may be the only solution to the rapid depletion of IPv4 addresses. “It is not a matter of whether, but of when, IPv4 addresses will run out,” said Seah.

He noted that the maximum number of addresses that IPv4 can support is about 4 billion, while the world’s population already exceeds that number. Some of these people may be served by more than one computer, and more addresses may also be required because of multiple interfaces per node and multiple addresses per interface, he added.

Said Brace, “We now use NAT (Network Address Translation) or propagate POPs (Points of Presence) to address this, but it causes problems.”

According to Seah, NAT works fine for client-server applications but not peer-to-peer (P2P) applications. “Receiving VOIP (voice over IP) calls is not possible as end points are not globally visible or uniquely identifiable,” he said.

With the 128-bit IPv6, there is a four-fold increase in address space compared with the 32-bit IPv4.

“The large IPv6 address space makes NAT unnecessary, eliminating its limitations and facilitating P2P applications,” said Seah.

Other advantages of IPv6 include built-in quality of service and a lot of security characteristics that are currently being bolted onto IPv4, such as support for virtual private networks and granular end-to-end security policies. For example, IPv6 supports all features of IPSec (IP Security).

Said Seah of ICR, “It is a common misconception that hiding addresses behind NATs makes the network secure. True security can only be realized through proper authentication, authorization and accountability, that is, being able to identify the communicating end points. IPSec provides true end-to-end security through authentication and encryption,” he added.

Another key feature of IPv6 is mobility support. As Seah pointed out, the mobility of users and/or hosts was an exception in the Internet, but will be the norm tomorrow.

IPv6 has built-in support for mobility, and a user can be reached anywhere in the world without special configuration requirements.

“The applications will always see the same end-points, regardless of where the hosts are,” he said.

He envisaged that 3G networks will be IPv6-based, with each phone having an IPv6 address.

Other potential IPv6 deployment areas, besides 3G, include home networks and appliances, automobile intelligent transportation systems using Internet connectivity, and entertainment.