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Caught in the Net
Special> Caught in the Net
UPDATED: September 7, 2007 NO.37 SEP.13, 2007
Tech Generation
China has gained a head start in developing the next generation of Internet technology in a bid to turn the country into an innovation nation

At the coming 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China will show the rest of the world how powerful its next generation Internet (CNGI) is. CNGI will be used for everything from broadcasting the events online to controlling the facilities at Olympic venues. Even taxies in Beijing's snarled traffic will connect to CNGI via IPv6 sensors so that dispatchers will be able to direct their drivers away from congestion.

"We have to make use of this opportunity [Internet technology upgrading] to boost the innovation capabilities of China's telecommunication industry," said Wu Hequan, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and Chairman of the CNGI Expert Committee, the group overseeing the project. "We will use it as a way to break through and be competitive in the global economic market."

Eight departments and ministries, including the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Information Industry, launched the project in August 2003, with the goal of creating a countrywide IPv6 backbone. The first phase of the project was completed in 2005. It yielded CNGI's core network, the CNGI-CERNET2, and made China the world's leader in IPv6 research.

Today, CNGI connects 100 universities, 100 research institutes and 100 companies in 20 cities.

Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), an emerging communication standard, is the core technology at the heart of CNGI. The Internet protocol is the Internet's version of a postal envelope, containing information such as the destination and return addresses, and details about a package's contents.

IPv6 is the successor to the 30-year-old IPv4 protocol that forms the backbone of the Internet today. The current standard, IPv4, doesn't have enough unique addresses for every would-be user in the world to connect to the Internet. IPv6 solves this problem, and includes many enhancements over its predecessor, improving security, mobility and routing.

IPv6 is estimated to have 1,029 times the number of addresses of IPv4, and an increased information transmitting speed of more than 1,000 times to 40 gigabytes per second. For these and other reasons, experts agree that a shift to an IPv6-based Internet is inevitable.

The success of the CNGI's core network freed China from dependence on foreign key Internet technologies and products and ensured national information security.

Recognized as the future direction of Internet development and a weapon in keeping economic, political and military advantages, the next-generation Internet has been a strategic task for major developed countries like Japan and the United States. China has written the development of CNGI into its latest five-year plan (2006-2010) and made it a key project in building an information-based country.

The innovation potential provided by IPv6 is enormous. The development of the next-generation Internet will boost information infrastructure construction, network equipment manufacturing, the software industry and the information service industry. It has been predicted that the market for Internet services, software and equipment will have reached several hundred billion yuan by 2013.

Every device, from cell phones and streetlights to household thermostat, can have its own unique position on the Internet and be connected all the time. Furthermore, since every computer will have its own permanent IP address, users will be able to authenticate the source of emails or other requests, providing the means to track and prevent today's hacking, spam and phishing schemes.

Researchers and entrepreneurs are busy developing applications and services that take advantage of the new capabilities, hoping to get a head start on the commercialization of these services.

"The barriers to IPv6 are a clear model for profitability and concerns about seamless coexistence with IPv4," said Jeff Doyle, senior network architect at Juniper Networks that powered the CNGI project with its routing platforms. "As more and more network-enabled devices and services come onto the market and the price of bandwidth to the home and office continues to fall, the demand for IP addresses will make IPv6 profitable."

The Chinese Government decided that CNGI's first users should be universities, research labs and leading companies because that is where it believes innovation will come from.

"One major focus [of applications for the first phase] is Mobile IPv6," said Wu. "Young People in China want to use mobile Internet. There are many mobile applications. Many operators want to focus on video applications, too."

"We think we can develop the killer applications," said Liu Dong, President of the Beijing Internet Institute at the IPv6 Global Summit in April.

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