HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

January 29, 2007, Herald Journal

China’s Internet use and IPv6 technology

By MARK OLLIG

In 2006, China saw an extraordinary increase of 14 million new Internet users – mostly from young people ages 18 to 24 who are online with friends and attending school.

The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) announced that the total number of Internet users is 132 million, making China the world’s second largest user, just behind the United States with 210 million Internet users according to the latest Internet world stats website: http://wwwinternetworldstats.com/top20.htm.

It was reported that only about 10.5 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people use the Internet. This compares with 69.6 percent of The United States 301 million population.

If we take a moment to look back to 1983, the Internet at that time was a Department of Defense project that connected researchers and universities. It had adopted an addressing system called “Internet Protocol version 4” or IPv4. This addressing system allows a way of uniquely identifying computers that are connected to the Internet so they can communicate with each other.

IPv4 was developed in 1976 by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn.

One can think of the protocol as the Internet’s version of a postal envelope which contains information such as the destination and return addresses and details about the packages contents. Internet Protocol (IP) is the method by which data is sent from one computer to another over the Internet network.

IPv4 is a four decimal 32-bit code. For example the Internet address of 216.27.61.137 when written in a binary code is this: 11011000.00011011.00111101.10001001. There are four decimal points and the code is 32 bits long.

This type of 32-bit coding can provide up to 4.3 billion unique addresses. If you’re curious about where the above Internet address goes, just type: http://216.27.61.137 into your web browser and you will see it takes you to the Jade Learning Center in Raleigh, NC.

It was thought that 4.3 billion unique addresses would be enough for the Internet at the time back before web browsers – when the Internet was a smaller text based network used by government and academic researchers.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the organization responsible for setting standards on the Internet, formally adopted a replacement standard called IPv6.

What about IPv5? Well, it was never introduced for public usage. There is a longer story about IPv5 and how it was instead used for something called ST (Internet Stream Protocol) which was actually developed much earlier in the late 1970’s for an experimental transmission of voice and video signals.

Getting back to IPv6, which is also known as the “next generation internet protocol” has, in my opinion, solved the address shortage by increasing the number of decimal values in each address from four to sixteen. This increases address length from 32 to 128 bits, resulting in a near infinite number of combinations--enough unique addresses for every grain of sand on the planet or for every person alive to have about 50 octillion unique IP addresses.

One octillion is 10 to the 27th power, or a “1” with 27 “0’s” following it. This is also equal to 1000 quadrillion. OK, I will stop now as I sense a few headaches starting among some of my readers.

IPv6 can also recognize IPv4 traffic, allowing the Internet network operators to phase out the old IPv4 standard over time. IPv6 was developed around 1996 and has been used in limited networked areas.

The Chinese government plans to unveil China’s Next Generation Internet (CNGI), which in fact is the IPv6 over their CNGI-CERNET2 (China Education and Research Network 2) backbone to a world audience during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

CNGI will demonstrate how it will be in control of much of the Olympic facilities--everything from security cameras to the lighting, directing traffic for taxi cabs in Beijing and even the thermostats at the Olympic locations, all using IPv6.

According U.S. sources familiar with the project, the Chinese government has already invested close to $200 million in CNGI.

“CNGI is the culmination of this revolutionary plan” to turn China into the world’s innovation capital,” said Wu Hequan, who is the chairman of the CNGI Expert Committee.

This has caused concern by some that the United States will soon be second to China in the use of the latest Internet Protocols.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform has said, “We cannot let our current success become a liability, with a continued reliance on the present protocol, while everyone else moves forward.”

“Over time IPv6 could revolutionize what we can do with the Internet,” says David Powner, director of information technology management issues for the Government Accountability Office. “My concern is that we will get behind,” Powner said.

The United States government stated that the computer network “backbone” of all federal agencies must be IPv6 “capable” by June of 2008, according to the Federal Government’s Office of Management and Budget.

If you are interested in learning more about the new IPv6 and how its effects will be felt world-wide, check out this link: http://www.ipv6tf.org for more information.

You can also read the United States General Accounting Office’s report on the federal agencies plan for the transition to IPv6 at: http://www.gao.gov/new.itmes/d05471.

This report also provides a very good description of the Internet protocols we touched on today.