This just in from the strange-but-true-deployments department: Hundreds of cows and taxicabs in Japan have their own unique IP addresses.
Recently, cows in Gifu prefecture were tagged with tiny networked devices to wirelessly track their movements and body temperatures for health and breeding purposes. And in Nagoya City, taxis were fitted with Internet-enabled sensors on their windshield wipers, allowing dispatchers to continuously monitor rainfall via wiper speed and to dispatch more cabs to the wetter neighborhoods.
Overkill? Wasteful? Maybe -- if we were talking about today’s technology. These two projects were designed not merely as gimmicks, but as part of a Japanese government plan to promote adoption of the next-generation Internet Protocol, IPv6.
The current version, known as IPv4, limits the Internet to approximately 4 billion unique addresses. Because American companies control the majority of those addresses, there’s been no hurry to deploy IPv6 in the United States. By contrast, however, Asian companies -- backed by government investments and mandates -- have been aggressively rolling out IPv6.
“Back when the Internet started, Asia didn’t get the lion’s share of addresses, and that’s painful now,” notes Hewlett-Packard Fellow Jim Bound, who also chairs the North American IPv6 Task Force. “I think they feel they got left out on the Internet, and they’re going to rejuvenate that with IPv6.”
IPv6 expands the current IP’s 32-bit numeric address space to a full 128 bits -- more than enough to assign a few thousand unique addresses to every cow and taxicab on Earth.
But more than balancing supply and demand, Asian governments and companies also see IPv6 as a business opportunity, Bound says -- an opportunity to innovate and leapfrog the rest of the world. By making it easier to assign Internet addresses to devices and services, IPv6 could accelerate adoption of new applications such as 3G mobile services, gaming, smart consumer appliances, smart sensors, home automation, and VoIP. That potential for innovation may prove to be the biggest driver for IPv6 adoption in the United States, as Asian IPv6-enabled products make their way westward.
“If Sony starts dumping IPv6-enabled devices on the market, which they’re saying they intend to do next year,” says Internet pioneer and MCI Senior Vice President Vint Cerf, “then we’ll all have to react promptly."
Cutting out the middleman
One of the big benefits of IPv6 -- a by-product of the trillions of unique addresses it creates -- is that it eliminates the need for NAT, a system for creating private address spaces that enable multiple hosts to share a single routable IPv4 address. That will come as a relief to network engineers, many of whom decry NAT for violating basic principles of the Internet’s design.
“When devices have globally routable IPv6 addresses, it will bring back the end-to-end nature that the Internet was created for in the first place,” explains Cody Christman, director of product engineering at Verio. “When you get away from NATs, it solves a lot of problems.”
Eliminating NATs will make it easier to perform end-to-end encryption, for example. IPv6 supports mandated IPSec, meaning that both devices must exchange encryption key information and start encrypting upon the request of either device.