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EC Launches IPv6 Adoption Initiative

The European Commission (EC) this week announced plans to encourage its member governments, industry, Internet service providers and the public to adopt IPv6 networking in the next few years.

In a communication to the European Parliament in Brussels, the EC set a target of getting 25 percent of European Union (EU) industry, public authorities and households to use IPv6 by 2010. The adoption of IPv6 is needed because of the looming shortage of Internet addresses under the IPv4 scheme, and it will help ensure the continental economy does not lag behind areas such as the Asian Pacific region, where adoption of IPv6 already is under way.

"This is very much a case of a stitch in time saves nine," said Viviane Reding, EU commissioner of information, society and media. "In the short term, businesses and public authorities might be tempted to try to squeeze their needs into the straitjacket of the old system, but this would mean Europe [would be] badly placed to take advantage of the latest Internet technology and could face a crisis when the old system runs out of addresses."

The EC -- the executive branch of the EU -- is hosting a European IPv6 Day in Brussels May 30 to introduce and promote the initiative. Unlike the mandate to U.S. government agencies requiring them to have their network backbones capable of handling IPv6 traffic next month, the EC cannot compel adoption of the new IP.

"There is no single authority to steer IPv6 introduction or to establish a coordinated master plan," the communication says. "Thus rollout of IPv6 is largely a decentralised and market driven process on a global scale."

IPv6 was developed to address shortcomings that have appeared in the commonly used IPv4 during the rapid adoption of the Internet as an international utility. One of the most attractive features of the new protocols is the expanded address space, which not only provides more addresses but also more flexibility in how addresses are assigned and used. The EC said adoption of IPv6 could help enable the use of networked devices such as smart tags in shops, factories and airports; intelligent heating and lighting systems that save energy; in-car networks and navigation systems; and networking huge numbers of other small devices.

Adoption of the technology has been occurring most rapidly in Asia, where Internet use has been high but which received a relatively small portion of the original IPv4 address space. The U.S. government made it a policy to adopt IPv6 first in the Defense Department as a means to increase available address space for network-centric warfare applications and then in civilian agencies to improve security and help ensure that the country does not trail other parts of the world in creation and adoption of networking technology.

Although federal agency networks must be capable of handling IPv6 packets next month, there is no requirement for when the new protocols are actually used.

National educational and research networks generally are ahead of the curve in using IPv6. Europe's GEANT research backbone is already IPv6-compatible and has led to Europe having the highest take-up of IPv6 addresses of any region in the world, the EC said. However, adoption has yet to filter through to the public Internet.

"Concerted action across Europe by all industry players is therefore required to ensure that IPv6 usage grows rapidly, with backbone Internet networks supporting both IPv4 and IPv6," the EC said.

The goals of the initiative for wide implementation by 2010 include having at least 25 percent of users able to use IPv6 to access their most important content and service providers without noticing a major difference compared to IPv4. The EC plans to work with member states to enable IPv6 on public-sector Web sites and in e-government services. This will require common deployment objectives.

For its part, the EC plans to make the Europa and CORDIS research and development Web sites IPv6-accessible by 2010. It also wants the most important Web sites of Europe to take the lead and hopes to receive commitments for IPv6 support from at least 100 top European Web site operators, such as broadcasters and online news services, before the end of 2008. To encourage the European information technology industry to move forward, member states should make use of IPv6 a condition for a public procurement, the EC said.

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).

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