NTT unveils first commercial IPv6 service

NTT, the Japanese telecommunications giant, yesterday announced the first commercial Internet service supporting IPv6, a comprehensive and controversial upgrade to the 30-year-old communications protocol that underpins the Net.

NTT's announcement will be made at the IPv6 Global Summit, a gathering of 150 Internet engineers and product designers in Telluride, Colo. The IPv6 Forum, a group of 80 companies and research institutions promoting the IPv6 standard, sponsors the summit.

Developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, IPv6 offers several benefits to corporate network managers over the current IPv4 protocol. IPv6, which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports a virtually limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the 'Net, while IPv4 supports only a few billion because it uses a 32-bit addressing scheme. IPv6 also offers easier administration and tighter security.

However, migrating to IPv6 is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Few IPv6-compliant products are shipping, and ISPs have been slow to support the standard. That's why NTT's announcement is so significant, according to IPv6 proponents.

NTT "would be the first official ISP to offer real IPv6 services," says Jim Bound, co-chair of the IPv6 Forum's Technical Directorate and a principal member of the technical staff at Compaq. This announcement "is a major critical milestone for the deployment of IPv6."

"I think this clearly represents the importance of IPv6 to Japan . . . and to the rest of the world," says Bob Fink, director of the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), which provides IPv6 service to US government agencies for research purposes. This announcement "represents an aggressive step by NTT to take their place as the worldwide ISP by being aggressive with new technology beyond their borders."

Until now, IPv6 service was available only through research networks such as ESnet, the IETF's 6bone and the academic community's 6ren. What NTT will offer starting in April is a true commercial service - complete with monthly flat-rate pricing and service-level agreements - run out of a data center in San Jose. NTT's service is targeted at networking product vendors, ISPs and corporate users that want to test IPv6 products and applications.

"We will run this facility as part of our business, so we will be responsible for it," says Shin Miyakawa, who leads the IPv6 research effort at NTT Multimedia Communications Laboratories in Palo Alto. "The most significant difference from the other [IPv6 networks] is that we will guarantee a level of service."

Miyakawa says NTT has been offering experimental IPv6 service to some of its customers at no cost. He says the company also is reaching out to other ISPs to try to build broader IPv6 services.

Although NTT's service is initially available to companies in the San Francisco Bay area only, NTT plans to extend the service to the New York area later this year.

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