Wi-Fi gets ready for next-generation Net

Wireless networking equipment makers are starting to roll out IPv6-ready gear to meet demand for the new protocol in Asia.

Wireless networking equipment makers are getting ready for the next-generation Internet.

On Tuesday, Airespace became the first wireless LAN (local area network) equipment maker to announce support for IPv6, or Internet Protocol version 6, on its products. Other Wi-Fi equipment makers, such as Aruba Wireless Networks, say they will be adding the feature sometime next year.

While IPv6 has become common in the Ethernet switch and routing market, it is only now becoming a requirement in the wireless LAN market.

Until recently, IPv6 support wasn't really needed on Wi-Fi gear, said Alan Cohen, vice president of marketing for Airespace. In the past, most wireless access points simply forwarded traffic upstream to an Ethernet switch or IP router. It was at this point, deep in the network, when devices read the full IP address to forward traffic to its final destination. But as Wi-Fi networking equipment gets more sophisticated with advanced features that track individual users, it's important to support IPv6, Cohen said.

"We don't make Ethernet switches, but our products enforce policy, such as security and quality of service," he said. "If you want to enforce those policies on individual users, you need to be reading the address correctly whether it's an IPv6 address or an IPv4 address."

IP is the "language" that is used by computers and other devices to communicate with each other over the Internet. Today's Internet has been built using hardware and software that supports IP version 4.

Many people say that IPv4 doesn't have enough room in its address field to support the millions of devices that will likely be added to the Internet in the next several years. IPv6 expands that pool of unique addresses.

While the United States doesn't yet have an IP address shortage, the situation is different in Europe and Asia. Countries such as Japan and China were allocated far fewer IP addresses than the United States. As these countries add more IP-enabled mobile communications and consumer services onto their networks, they will increasingly need more addresses.

As a result, support for IPv6 on networking equipment has become important in many countries. For example, Japan was the first country to implement a native IPv6 production network, which is used by every service provider in the country.

China, India and most of Europe may not be far behind in terms of mass IPv6 adoption. The shear size of China's population is enough to justify deploying IPv6, some analysts say. If every person in China needed just one IPv4 address, the country would use up a third of the entire IP public address space.

"In Asia, IPv6 is essential to play in this market," said David Callisch, communications director at Aruba. "Customers in places like Japan really require it. They need to see you have it on your roadmap."

While it could take much longer for the United States to climb onboard the IPv6 bandwagon, it is already getting a push from the U.S. Department of Defense. In June 2003, the department set a mandate that all agencies be IPv6-ready by 2008. The agency has helped develop the Moonv6 network, which serves as a test bed for service providers and equipment makers trialing IPv6 technology.