Largest IPv6 network launched in China

China is aiming to become the leading player in the creation of the next generation of the Internet

An IPv6-based network linking 25 universities in 20 cities across China began operating on Saturday.

The China Education and Research Network Information Center (CERNIC) announced the launch of the network, called CERNET2, which is thought to be the largest single IPv6 network yet created. CERNIC claimed it makes China a world leader in the race to build the next generation of the Internet.

China's National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) has set aside 1.4bn yuan (US$169m) to support six next-generation Internet networks, according to People's Daily , China's main daily newspaper. Half of it will be used on projects linked to the university network, with the remaining money given to five telecom operators.

China is not the only Asian country with a strong interest in IPv6. Japan has already implemented an IPv6 production network, which is used by every service provider in the country. South Korea is working with the EU to develop applications and services using IPv6.

IPv6 exponentially increases the number of possible Internet protocol (IP) addresses. It has been created and deployed in response to the fear that the existing Internet address pool could run dry within a few years as more people go online, especially as Web use in Asia rises sharply.

IPv4, the incumbent Internet protocol standard, gives its data packets just 32 bits of address space. By increasing this to 128 bits, IPv6 provides billions more IP addresses and allows many more devices to be simultaneously linked to the Internet.

Many network operators and equipment vendors are pushing IPv6. However, most companies have been reluctant to spend the money needed to make their networks IPv6-compatable by upgrading IP stacks on network gear, applications, PCs and servers.

Some have said that techniques such as network address translation (NAT) -- which lets up to 257 nodes in a corporation sit behind a single IP address -- mean it is possible to work around IPv4's limitations.

Some experts have predicted that once China have embraced IPv6, Western countries who wish to do business with Asia will have to upgrade their own networks.

ZDNet UK's Graeme Wearden contributed to this report.