March 18th, 2009 | Published in Google Public Policy
Just as a unique number is associated with your telephone line, your computer is assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address when you connect to the Internet. Unfortunately, under the current Internet protocol, IPv4, the Internet is projected to run out of IP addresses in 2011. While technologies such as Network Address Translation (NAT) can provide temporary workarounds, they undermine the Internet's open architecture and "innovation without permission" ethos, allowing network intermediaries to exert undue control over new applications.
Effective adoption of the next generation protocol -- IPv6 -- will provide a real, sustainable solution. By expanding the number of IP addresses -- enough for three billion addresses for every person on the planet -- IPv6 will clear the way for the next generation of VoIP, video conferencing, mobile applications, "smart" appliances (Internet-enabled heating systems, cars, refrigerators, and other devices) and other novel applications.
In a report prepared for the National Institute of Standards & Technology in 2005, RTI International estimated annual benefits in excess of $10 billion.
Unfortunately, IPv6 presents a classic chicken-and-egg problem. The benefits of any one network operator, device vendor, application and content provider, or Internet user adopting IPv6 are limited if there is not a critical mass of other adopters. As a result, adoption lags.
The best way to kickstart IPv6 support is to adopt it, and governments are uniquely positioned here. Governments can take advantage of their roles as network operator, content provider, and consumer of Internet services to spur rapid, effective adoption of IPv6. Governments are owners of large IP-based networks, and they can transition both their externally- and internally-facing services to IPv6. They can also choose to only purchase Internet services from entities that commit to deploying native IPv6. In addition, governments can also consider subsidizing or otherwise financially supporting IPv6, such as by conditioning funding for broadband deployment on the use of IPv6 and by funding research around innovative IPv6-based applications
The private sector also has a critical role to play, of course. Here at Google we're hosting a conference this week to support IPv6 implementation. We began offering Web Search over IPv6 on ipv6.google.com in March 2008, and we recently announced our Google over IPv6 initiative, which provides users seamless access to most Google services over IPv6 simply by going to websites like www.google.com. At this week's conference, participants will share IPv6 implementation experience, advice, and associated research, and hopefully take one more step towards sustaining a healthy, open Internet.