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IPv6: Seven killer capabilities

What is the purpose to the provisioning of IPv6? What will the new infrastructure give to the masses that IPv4 cannot? outlines the killer capabilities of IPv6.

You could say that IP Version 4 (IPv4) was the PC Internet - an Internet which connected together hundreds of millions of PCs and many millions of servers. The PCs executed browsers that displayed billions of web pages, text and graphics rendered in HTML. IP was the protocol that made this all possible and Version 4 was adequate to provide enough addresses to accommodate all the connections - but only just.

So just in the nick of time, IPv4 is about to be replaced by IPv6, relieving the pressure on Internet addresses and providing a much better service in a number of key ways. We can summarise the better services as follows:

  • The new 128-bit address should last us for the predicable future - in theory until we start networking our computers with other planets in other solar systems in the universe. The address space is large enough to assign a unique address to every proton in or on the planet Earth.
  • It will embody new security features, which will encourage the use of encryption and authentication.
  • It will provide a higher quality of service, particularly in terms of timeliness.
  • It will enable multicast services.
  • It will enable mobile usage.

All of which sounds fine, but what does it mean in practice and, most importantly, what applications will it enable - what will the killer applications of IPv6 be?

First of all, if IPv4 represented the infant Internet, then IPv6 represents the fully adult Internet, primed and ready to do business.

The idea of a killer application is that it is one that almost everyone uses or wants to use. The limitations of the IPv4 Internet were sufficient to stifle the proper development of some clearly viable applications of this type. IPv6 opens the door on them.

Killer App No 1: VOIP and CIT
There was a whole area of applications stifled by IPv4 that goes by the name of Computer Integrated Telephony (CIT) and includes Voice Over IP (VOIP).

The reason why IPv4 could not deliver here was simply quality of service. Under IPv4 it was necessary to configure VPNs in order to assure the quality that would make Voice Over IP appealing and this in turn made rapid and ubiquitous take-up impossible.

IPv6 cures the quality issue. It opens up the prospect of every telephone number having an IP address, so that eventually all telephones will be replaced by IPv6 devices. This doesn't sound so impressive until you turn it around and suggest the alternative possibility of everything that has an IP address (and a microphone and earpiece) becoming a telephone. This will bind voice into the computer interface (whether it is the interface of a TV, PDA, computer, car or whatever).

Indeed this may not be just a killer application, but quite possibly a whole series of them.

Killer App No 2: LVOIP and VIP
Undoubtedly, what goes for voice also goes for video. Much greater bandwidth may be needed for video but the constraints that have held back Voice over IP have also held back video delivery capabilities. LVOIP and CIV (acronyms of our own invention) stand for Live Video Over IP and Computer Integrated Video respectively. We can confidently predict that, just as voice will become integrated into the user interface, so will video.

The distinct difference between the two is that the telephone networks of the world constitute a fully-installed and already-being-used real-time sound interaction system. There is no such equivalent for video traffic and the videophone call may not be an application that proliferates quickly. At the moment, it is too soon to say. However, there is other guaranteed traffic. For example, camera based security - whether keeping an eye on property or keeping an eye on young children - will surely become a ubiquitous application.

Killer App No 3: Pay-per-view, pay-per-play
The word multicast may not sound exciting, but from an application point of view it is. IPv6 includes multicast capabilities, which means the ability to direct traffic to multiple IP addresses at the same time. In simple language this means 'pay per view' capability. In practice, it means being able to send real time information to multiple devices with a guaranteed quality of service. It means being able to accommodate broadcast television, satellite television and cable television within the Internet.

In particular, it means a whole series of entertainment and sports video ideas can be put into practice with streaming video being fed to display devices of all kinds from digital projectors through to IP TVs and computers.

It should lead to some very compelling services from broadcasters of sports and entertainment, but it could and should also lead to some very compelling video games activity - on the basis of 'pay per play'. Multi-user electronic games have been held back by the quality of service issue as well as the more obvious constraining lack of bandwidth. With IPv6, there is suddenly the possibility of a game player's reaction speed (or more accurately interaction speed) being a factor in the game. This will probably lead to the development of a wide variety of virtual reality games.

A number of application areas have been held back by the limitations of IPv4 with mobile technology. However the first and most obvious impact of IPv6 is simply to open the door to an explosion of embedded technology. The first killer capability here then, is the broad enablement of embedded systems.

Killer App No 5: Ubiquity
IPv6 makes it possible to have billions, even trillions, of connected wireless devices. This removes a huge constraint; the constraint of wires. These are more constraining than they initially appear. For example, it might seem that with a fixed and fairly immovable device, like a refrigerator, that there would be little to choose from between wired and wireless, but there is. If you have wired communications you have the need to run wires across and through walls and you have a problem even if you want to move the device just once. Wireless is better, even if you never move the device.

The prospect then is of the proliferation of chips (embedded systems), and hence intelligence, in devices, including devices on the person (PDAs, mobile phones, etc.), devices in the household (which means virtually all electronic devices), devices in the working environment (again virtually all electronic devices) and devices in all forms of transport (cars, trains, boats, planes, etc.).

The consequences of such ubiquity will undoubtedly be to improve the capability of many things, but it will also bring about a dramatic reduction in the cost of maintenance and service as all these devices will surely be built to report directly any fault that arises and arrange for it to be corrected perhaps before it is even noticed.

Killer App No 6: The Payment Transaction
Another major mobile application area that will emerge once IPv6 has delivered its benefits is electronic payment. We could argue that this is already occurring as, in Finland and other parts of Scandinavia, it is already possible to buy goods using a mobile phone and have the cost added to one's phone bill. However this is not fully fledged banking and there are limits to what can be done via such a mechanism.

Security has always been a significant issue in implementing payment schemes via mobile technology. Firstly, mobile phones are often stolen and secondly wireless communications are relatively insecure. To add to this we have the security problems that surround all forms of electronic banking.

IPv6 makes a difference here because it can make the device, the connection link and the contents of the transmission more secure. It may thus enable the creation and management of true electronic money and hence true mobile banking. This perhaps more than any other area of application deserves the adjective 'killer' because the payment transaction is and always has been the most valuable transaction in any economic system. Indeed it is the basis of economics.

Another, but also important, aspect of IPv6 is that it will become a broad standard that bridges over technology areas, which previous evolved their own standards for addressing. A very specific and very important area here is data storage.

Killer App No 7: IP-Based Storage
The standards for accessing data stored on various storage media were with the assumption that storage devices would tend to be attached to specific computers or, at worst, attached at some point within a local and dedicated network. The realisation that this need not necessarily be the case has given rise to storage technology based on IP addresses. Under IPv4 there are limitations as to how this can be deployed securely.

Under IPv6, the obstacles are overcome because of the quality of service and security features of IPv6. This then opens up the possibility of establishing pools of storage space on the Internet, which could be rented on a usage basis. It could lead to common pools of shared data (such as names, addresses, geographical data and so on). In effect this could and probably would transform the whole area of storage technology, database and the way that companies use and manage data.

We have defined seven separate 'killer' capabilities that IPv6 will enable. We know that each area we have pinpointed does not really constitute a killer app in the way that the word processor or spreadsheet were killer apps in the early PC era. These are actually whole areas of capability, which will see the emergence of a whole series of innovations in software products and services and will undoubtedly give rise to revenues in the billions.

IPv6 will more than enable the Internet, it will usher in many new ways of using it and multiply the amount of business that is transacted on it in a dramatic fashion. It will have a revolutionary impact.

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