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IP address supply facing crunch
By Liu Baijia (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-20 09:09

What do China, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University have in common?

Answer: China and the three US universities have roughly the same number of Internet protocol (IP) addresses, a globally unique number identifying each machine on the Internet.

According to statistics from the China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC), by the end of 2004, China had 94 million Internet users and 41.6 million computers connected to the Internet.

Demand for access is fast increasing and the shortage of IP addresses has become a problem for the country.

But help might be at hand with a new generation of IP addresses called IPv6.

Call for change

IPv6 is an enhanced and upgraded version of the forth Internet protocol called IPv4 and is a basis for next generation networks (NGN).

While IPv4 addresses have 32 bits and the IPv4 protocol supports 4.3 billion addresses, IPv6 is 128-bit-based and some experts estimate the IPv6 protocol can assign 1,000 addresses to every square metre of space in the world.

IPv6, which is believed to be able to provide an unlimited number of IP addresses, has become a hope for countries like China.

Chen Ruming, deputy director of the committee on telecommunications technology and sciences with the Ministry of Information Industry, said in a recent interview that China already has the world's second largest Internet population and it is still growing quickly.

At the same time, other means of Internet connections like mobile phones also are increasing the urgency to obtain more IP addresses.

He quoted statistics from the IPv6 Forum in 2004, saying that the 15 top Internet countries in the world need 298 Class A addresses. A Class A address equals 14 million ordinary addresses. China itself needs 105 Class A addresses, although it only had three at the end of 2003.

However, the old allocation system, which failed to estimate the demands of developing nations, has led to lots of complaints and many industrial experts and executives have called for reforming the system in the IPv6 era.

"It is a pressing task to establish a fair mechanism," said Zhao Houlin, director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

He suggested at the 2005 Global IPv6 Summit in Beijing on April 5 that the majority of IPv6 addresses can still be allocated by the current non-governmental distribution agencies on a first-come-first serve principle, but part of the IPv6 addresses should be given to organizations like ITU for distribution to every nation free of charge.

China, with the lessons learned in the IPv4 era, has sped up its progress in registering IPv6 addresses and has received 1.8 per cent of the total IPv6 addresses allocated, compared with the 1.4 per cent ratio in IPv4 addresses.

However, Zhao said it is more about the fairness of the mechanism rather than increasing the number of addresses.

"The question is whether China is satisfied with the current regime, and if it feels it is fairly treated and if it can control its own fate," said Zhao.

His suggestions were echoed by Ulf Dahlsten, director of emerging technologies and infrastructure applications at the Directorate-General Information Society of the European Commission, although Europe is free from a shortage of IP addresses and every person has an address on average, while 22 Chinese on average have a single address.

"We need to study the allocation system of IPv6 addresses and we need a new way to do that," said Dahlsten.

Despite an increase of the number of IP addresses of China, the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands got 48 per cent of them and the addresses that China registered were only one-eighth of those of the United States and one-sixth of those of Japan.

Wu Hequan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director of the expert group of China Next Generation Internet (CNGI) project, called on the nation to co-ordinate the registration moves and to win more shares.

"We should have a national strategy in applying IPv6 addresses and to co-ordinate our efforts, or we will face the same situation," Wu told China Daily on the sidelines of the IPv6 summit.

A pioneer

While China still lags behind many countries in terms of both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, it has become one of the most enthusiastic countries to push the development of the next generation network, which means higher bandwidth, more secure network, richer applications.

CERNET2, the biggest IPv6 network in the world and the biggest next-generation network in China, started a new round of network routers and switching machine bidding on April 8 in Beijing, trying to further expand the network and the results are expected to be announced next Wednesday.

The network, with an investment of 700 million yuan (US$84.54 million) from the Chinese Government and more than 120 million yuan (US$14.49 million) from 25 leading Chinese universities, was officially launched in December, connecting 25 universities at a speed of one to 10 gigabytes per second.

Tsinghua Bitway, Huawei-3Com and Cisco won the contracts in the first round of bidding.

The network is expected to cover 100 universities this year and to expand to 180 universities during a later stage.

At the same time, the other five participating operators of the CNGI project raised by the Chinese Government also accelerated the pace in building their own networks.

China Telecom has started to build a China Telecom Next Generation Carrier Network known as CN2.

Zhao Huiling, vice-president of the Beijing Research Academy at the country's biggest fixed-line operator, said one of the major tasks for her company in 2004 and 2005 is to build CN2 for commercial uses.

The first phase of the network is expected to cost 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) and almost 800 million yuan (US$96.61 million) will be spent on equipment procurement.

The domestic research house CCW Research also predicted the NGN market will enter a golden period in development in 2005, as operators began to invest heavily, with the demands for IPTV, voice over IP (VoIP) and broadband connections.

The Beijing-based consulting firm said on Monday that sales of NGN equipment in China reached US$87 million in 2004 and are expected to grow to US$120 million this year.

The average annual growth of capital expenditures of operators is forecast to be over 50 per cent from 2005 to 2008.

With the experiences from the development and trials of next generation networks, China will also try to contribute its efforts to standardization.

Wu Hequan with the CNGI expert committee, said his organization has started to work on standards on network planning, IP address planning, and other areas.

He said 110 research teams have been picked for the second round of contests to carry out the standardization projects sponsored by the Government.

Wu Jianping, director of the network centre of CERNET, said CERNET2 has registered a patent for its technology to migrate the current IPv4 addresses to the IPv6 platform and apply to make it the standard in China.

Despite the progress of the current next generation network efforts, they are mainly trials or for research purposes and the large-scale commercial launch will still take some time.

Tang Xiongyan, vice-president of the research academy of China Netcom, said at the IPv6 summit that the shortage of addresses has been eased with China getting more resources and the industry developing some other solutions. So the demand for IPv6 is not as strong as one or two years ago.

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