"There is not much pull in the market today for IPv6," said Al Javed, chief technology officer of wireless Internet at Nortel Networks and a keynote speaker at last week's IPv6 Forum in Ottawa. "What we need now is applications."
Last year's anticipation that wireless service providers would sanction construction of overlay IPv6 backbones has yet to bear fruit. Sales of IPv6 bandwidth from existing overlay service providers are largely supporting experimental, not commercial, services.
Besides, many U.S. Internet companies still view skeptically the alleged shortage of IP addresses using the current standard.
IPv6 addresses have been available since 1999, and are expected to be the driving force behind IPv6 upgrades. Millions of next-generation wireless phones will each need an IP address to work properly, and numerous devices connected to the Internet, such as office IP phones or gaming devices, will also need individual addresses. Some estimate that the 4 billion addresses available in the current IPv4 will be depleted by 2010.
Without IPv6 deployed at the Internet's core, there is little incentive to develop applications that would require the new standard. But with no paying customers in sight, why bother to upgrade networks?
For many IPv6 boosters, Japan is an example of how things should be done, with its government-imposed deadline to upgrade its information technology sectors to run on IPv6 by 2005. The mandate is expected to stimulate network upgrades and application development.
"Japan is the first to deploy IPv6. Because they were the last on the previous Internet, they didn't make money on it, and since they are rejuvenating the Japanese economy, they see IPv6 as infrastructure that would help them regain lost ground on the Internet," said Latif Ladid, president of the IPv6 Forum and vice president at Ericsson Telebit.
Japan will need new addresses the soonest. Currently, North America has 74 percent of IP addresses, Europe 17 percent and the Asia-Pacific region just 9 percent.
NTT, which owns U.S.-based Web hoster and backbone operator Verio, launched the world's first native IPv6 backbone on April 27, signing customers including Fujitsu, Matsushita Graphic Communication Systems, NEC and NTTPC Communications.
NTT has beaten other large competitors, such as Qwest Communications International and Sprint, to the punch with its IPv6 initiative, underscoring that in the U.S., most of the IPv6 work among backbones is still done in the lab.
Seattle start-up Zama Networks has built a Pacific Rim-centered IPv6 backbone and sells IPv6 bandwidth and colocation. But Tim Martin, vice president at Zama, said most of the company's work is centered on consulting and helping companies experiment with IPv6.
Other U.S. players, large and small, are entering the fray. Last week, Cisco Systems announced it will add IPv6 software to the next generation of its router management software. Microsoft is making the IPv6 software available to download for a Windows XP Software Developers Kit upgrade, and IPv6 is also available with certain flavors of Linux and Unix. New vendors, such as California start-up InterNetShare, have developed products aimed at enterprises.
The activity on the edge of the Net inspires optimism in some that the IPv6 revolution could happen without backbones participating and will be driven by enterprise customers.