IPv6: behind the hype

Brent Finnegan -- May 17th, 2007

Mark Bayliss and his company, World Airwaves, are under the gun to get the Harrisonburg wireless IPv6 network up and running. As predicted, the city has given them until the end of summer to get it done.

But there are still a number of things that seem to be going unreported here. The DNR article states:

For starters, few companies provide the necessary hardware for the technology, [Bayliss] said. WorldAirWaves also has had to work to correct glitches in the software, and had to find a new Internet provider, he said. Bayliss had hoped MCI would be the provider but that fell through when Verizon bought the company, he said.

MCI/Verizon does support IPv6. They just won’t configure the routers (and according to some, Verizon’s support ain’t what it used to be). But still, why would a small Virginia-based company like World Airwaves team up with a Japanese giant like NTT? Bayliss said NTT is their new partner. I wonder if this has actually been confirmed with officials at NTT.

Local network engineer Wes Deviers said, “NTT is very good at what they do, but I would never even consider trying to provision an internet feed from a Japanese company with no presence here at all. They just have to resell somebody else’s; the big players in Harrisonburg are varied and all relatively good at what they do. Ntelos, Verizon, Telcove (formerly Adelphia Business), Level3, Qwest, and a handful of others all provide IP service ‘directly’ to Harrisonburg.”

Also, IPv6 was originally misrepresented in the local media (or misinterpreted by most of us) as some sort of super-fast broadband service. It’s not. It’s simply a new IP addressing system, because IPv4 addresses are supposedly “running out”. v4 addresses look like European phone numbers. v6 addresses look like pi. By most accounts, the “IP address crisis” won’t happen for several more years, especially with the increasingly popular practice of NAT routing.

Deviers said, “There are some theoretical speed gains to be made at the high end (multi-gigabit connections), but a native IP6 network could also theoretically be slower since the packet is larger. However, saying that IP6 makes a network have more bandwidth or operate faster is about as intellectually honest as saying NOX decals give a Honda 50 extra horsepower.”

One would think that if they had the means to complete the task, it would already be up and running by now. Projects similar to this were undertaken in other cities years ago (using tax money to do it). Where is the existing infrastructure they keep referring to? Is it the transmitters on top of the parking decks downtown? If so, I’d say the installation looks a little sketchy. The PVC conduit connecting those transmitters has no expansion joints, and has subsequently separated, exposing the wires inside.

I’m told that another company (not World Airwaves) already has wireless IPv6 coverage in downtown Harrisonburg as of this week. In fact, I had an IM conversation with someone with a v6 address just yesterday. So it is possible. However, in order for the v6 addresses to be connected to the rest of the known Internet, there needs to be a gateway (an adapter of sorts) either on the ISP side or on the client side (your computer). v6 addresses are only supported on Windows Vista, Mac OSX, and Linux (though I’m told that it can also be made to work with XP). If you have an older operating system, you’re out of luck.

The more I learn about this, the more I wonder what all the hype is about. Until the feds switch everything over to v6, is there is really a need for this stuff in Harrisonburg?

The most obvious question that no one is asking is: Why all this emphasis on being the first city to have wireless IPv6 coverage? Bragging rights? How will it benefit the people of the city? Wes Deviers noted that we won’t be able to use IP6 in the “real world” (for hosting or service providing) for at least a few years anyway, so they’ll have to use external IP4 blocks with internal translations. Why not just deploy the wireless network on IP4 and update it later?

The big push to IPv6 is coming from Washington DC, not the private sector. IPv6 compatibility has been mandated for all federal agencies by next year. Who is the city’s Economic Development Department trying to attract here? Tech companies like Fairfield, or big government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security?

Thanks to Wes, Mike, and Alex for their help in trying to understand this stuff.

2 Responses to “IPv6: behind the hype”

  1. Renee says:

    I think the big drive to get IPV6 in Harrisonburg is not “faster internet”, though I see from this article that it has been misrepresented that way.

    The push to get it here, in my opinion, should be that Harrisonburg would be a “test-bed” for IPV6 technology. There is a lot of interest in the technology business world to build systems that take advantage of the IPV6 addressing scheme, and by offering it here city-wide, we would
    1) attract high-tech businesses that would want to build systems in this city, and
    2) encourage our current high-tech businesses to utilize the technology when designing their systems, giving them an economic advantage when IPV6 becomes widely available across the US.

    The advantage of IPV6 comes not from speed, but from the vast number of addresses available. Simply, there is a longer string of numbers used for addresses, so there is a much higher number of combinations available. It’s similar to when a new area code is needed because all of the phone numbers in one area code are used up, but instead of just adding a new “area code”, IPV6 creates a much longer “phone number”.

    Being part of a small technology business here in Harrisonburg, I am really disappointed that this has taken so long and that our local internet providers are not jumping in to be a part of it. I know of at least 3 different tech companies here that have projects in mind that they could develop on the IPV6 system if it comes here that cannot be developed on the current IPV4 standard.

    The US government is pushing all vendor companies to support IPV6 by 2008, so Harrisonburg is going to quickly lose its chance to become a major test-bed when another city with a lot of government contractors decides to implement it first.

    On a related note, read a short article about China’s IPV6 initiative here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Next_Generation_Internet

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