Trials and demonstrations of IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) have been going on for a while now, but the widespread arrival of this long-awaited successor to IPv4 has yet to occur, although engineers and experts have been declaring almost every year recently as the beginning of IPv6.
At this year's Networld+Interop Tokyo, however, mobility was added to IPv6 trials and demonstrations. Now those engineers expect Mobile IPv6 will really encourage the spread of the technology.
When a mobile node using conventional IPv4 wireless LAN services is moved from one network to another, that node's IP address has to be changed. This means that, for example, it cannot receive continuous streaming video while moving from one wireless LAN access point to another, or a continuous chat with another node.
Mobile IPv6, on the other hand, can have a fixed "home address" option, which allows a mobile node to keep communicating using the same home address while changing networks. This also allows, for example, a notebook PC to seamlessly switch its mode of Internet access from a wired connection to a wireless LAN card.
NTT Communications Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. formed an alliance to promote IPv6 together on Monday and announced a joint demonstration at the show, which opened on Wednesday.
The demonstration includes seamless peer-to-peer file exchanges between Hitachi's PDA (personal digital assistant) running Windows CE.NET and a PC running Windows XP. NTT Communications, which provides the IPv6 network, set up a demonstration of a PDA being used at a wireless access point, downloading a music file from a home PC.
NTT Communications currently offers commercial IPv6 services for enterprises and plans to launch an IPv6/IPv4 dual ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) service for households from the end of this month. The company hopes to commercialize IPv6 wireless access points within this year, too, said Hiroyuki Hara, engineer at IPv6 Project at NTT Communications.
"Possible applications, like this IPv6-enabled hot spot, are coming out along with the increase of commercial IPv6 services," Hara said. The company has already conducted trials of IPv6 connections through a fast food restaurant's wireless LAN access point in Tokyo last December. A demonstration area called the Mobile IPv6 Zone was created at Networld+Interop's IPv6 ShowCase Pavilion. Sharp Corp. is exhibiting the prototype of its Zaurus SL-5500, a PDA that supports Mobile IPv6 connections. It is part of the WIDE (Widely Integrated Distributed Environment) Project's development of IPv6 support for the Linux operating system, since the SL-5500, which is available only in North America and Europe, is a Linux-based PDA.
The WIDE Project is a consortium for researching new computing technologies, formed in 1986 by Jun Murai, a Keio University professor, and its members include Keio University, Tokyo University, Sun Microsystems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., NEC Corp., Hitachi and Fujitsu Ltd.
"Unlike IPv4, whose mobile function was added later, and is therefore complicated, IPv6 can be easily combined with Mobile IP," said Shinichiro Motoyoshi, an engineer at IP Network Division of NEC.
NEC provides a home agent for the SL-5500's Mobile IPv6 connection. Each mobile device is registered with a fixed home address; the home agent is responsible for rerouting information through the network to reach those mobile devices when they are away from their home base.
The specification for Mobile IPv6, which is being developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, has not been completed yet. But NEC's Motoyoshi hopes its home agent for Mobile IPv6 will be commercialized six months from now.
"It would take six months to one year for the standardization of the Mobile IPv6 specification," agreed Kenichi Hirasawa, a spokesman at Broadband Business Division of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corp. (NTT East). "And the issue left for the specification is about security on the network," he said.
Using a Mobile IPv6 infrastructure at Networld+Interop, NTT East is demonstrating content distribution with other member companies. NTT East joined in IPv6 trials with the WIDE Project in March.
"As IPv4 wasn't made for mobility in the first place, Mobile IPv4 requires a lot of extra equipment like a foreign agent at each network, whereas Mobile IPv6 only needs a home agent or an access point," Hirasawa said. Therefore, as its infrastructure costs are low, Mobile IPv6 can be offered along with the rollout of IPv6 networks, Hirasawa said.
"What is needed for the spread of IPv6 in general is the killer application," said Takayuki Shiina, chief engineer at Business Integration & Sales Division of NTT East. "This year, the network infrastructures were completed, commercial services were started, and hardware like Cisco's router, and software like Windows XP, that support IPv6 were released. Now, all we need is to look for applications for IPv6," he said.
As for Mobile IPv6, cell phones offer one of the potential triggers for its widespread use, Shiina said. "If every mobile phone had an IP address, I'm sure IPv4 addresses would've run out immediately," he said.
Networld+Interop 2002 Tokyo runs through Friday at Makuhari Messe, Chiba Prefecture, Japan.