Techies Ramp Up For Internet's Next Incarnation

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By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, May 26, 2005

The 500 technologists hunkered down in the Reston Hyatt this week are plotting the best way to push us onto the new Internet.

They assume everyone's heard that there's a new Internet coming. Didn't know we needed an upgrade? Yes, the one we're working on now is a bit antiquated, they say nonchalantly, and it's about time we moved to a sleeker model.

"What we've found over the last 10 years is that we need to do a number of things to improve [the Internet]," said Rod Murchison , senior director of product management for Juniper Networks of Sunnyvale, Calif. The current Internet simply wasn't designed to handle the volume of users and devices that are tapping into it, he adds.

But out there in the ether, waiting to be accepted and adopted, Murchison says, is an Internet that can handle all the needs of the growing digital society. Those in the know call it " IPV6 ," short for Internet Protocol Version 6. (For the curious, we're currently using Version 4 -- Version 5 never really got off the ground.)

The essential advantage of Version 6 is that it can expand to give Internet addresses not only to every cell phone, iPod and BlackBerry that will eventually come online, but also to Web-enabled sensors that will someday be scattered around our homes, cars and communities, allowing users to control more of their world through the Internet.

The current version has about 4.3 billion available addresses; the new one has so many it is expressed in exponents (3.4 x 10 to the power of 38).

The average consumer may never know the switch is occurring, because the two versions interact seamlessly with each other. Most modern computers are already enabled to use IPV6, but for network service providers, like Comcast or America Online , it can require significant and costly equipment upgrades, Murchison said.

Enthusiasts at this week's conference, called the IPV6 Summit and attended by many representatives of local tech companies and government agencies, expound fervently about the days when the sensors on a car's timing belt will send an alert through the Internet to a consumer's cell phone, informing the owner that it's time for a tune-up. Or when an e-mail will show up with the message that the freezer in a user's vacation home has risen above a certain temperature, putting that expensive buffalo meat at risk of spoiling.

The new Net is also more secure, its proponents say, because the simplicity of its structure makes it easier to identify potential trouble spots. And streaming video images played on IPV6 are far more clear than those shown on the old model.

American corporations have been slow to adopt the new standard, which was developed by a consortium of public- and private-sector technologists, but the Pentagon isn't giving its units the option to ignore it. By 2008, the Defense Department intends to deploy Version 6 and is requiring that all of the new devices purchased by military buyers are equipped to work on the new network.

"As the network gets bigger, they want more reach. They want more end-to-end communication. . . . The goal is ubiquity," said Chuck Lynch , technical director of the DOD transition office.

Rep. T homas M. Davis III (R-Va.) stopped by the conference Tuesday morning to promote the advantages of the new Internet, and last week the Government Accountability Office issued a report recommending that federal agencies start planning their transition strategies.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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