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Brussels, 21 February 2002

Commission takes step Towards the Next generation Internet

Today the European Commission has adopted the Communication entitled "IPv6 Priorities for Action". The Communication calls for a European action plan to accelerate the rollout of Internet Protocol version 6 (Ipv6) - a key technology for the Next Generation Internet. Unless action is taken, space on the current generation of the internet is projected to be exhausted by around 2005. IPv6 will provide a quantum leap in the number of Internet addresses available for the foreseeable future. "IPv6 is a critical technology for enabling the convergence of the Internet with mobile communications, an area where Europe leads the world," said Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society. "The importance of IPv6 to European competitiveness in general can not be overestimated. Europe needs to match its first-class research with political commitment to make IPv6 happen."

Every device connected to the internet has an IP (Internet Protocol) address essentially its Internet 'postal address'. When the current version of the Internet Protocol (IPv4) was conceived in the 1970s, it provided just over 4000 million addresses more than enough in the days before the Internet explosion.

Today, that is not enough to provide each person on the planet with one address. The situation is made much worse by the fact that IPv4 addresses are not distributed evenly - 74% of the IPv4 addresses have been assigned to North American organisations, with two universities (Stanford and MIT) each having more than the Peoples' Republic of China.

The IPv4 addresses are expected to run out by around 2005. Moreover, future Internet developments such as wireless machine-to-machine communications, mobile computing and third generation (3G) telephony will put an even greater strain on these limited resources.

Conversely, IPv4 is making the development of some of these new systems impossible, with serious implications for Europe's position as world leader in mobile communications. IPv4 has therefore become a brake on the development of both the Global Information Society and a new range of technologies and services.

IPv6, on the other hand, provides 2128 (4 billion * 4 billion * 4 billion * 4 billion) addresses, creating more locations in cyberspace than there are grains of sand on the world's beaches. Apart from providing enough addresses for everyone and their internet-enabled devices, IPv6 also makes the technologies used to work around IPv4's limitations obsolete, making the IPv6 Internet more stable, efficient, powerful, secure and private.

Without the 'IPv6 upgrade', the Internet will inevitably degrade under the mounting pressure of new users and growing traffic, while new innovations critical to European competitiveness will be stifled. With IPv6, Europe can translate its leadership in mobile communications into stronger positions in fields as diverse as network equipment and consumer electronics areas where Europe is generally seen as customer, not supplier.

The European Commission therefore sees IPv6 as a critical part of Europe's Next Generation Internet strategy, alongside the European Broadband Strategy and many other initiatives launched since the Lisbon Council, which called for Europe "to become the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010".

Europe's IPv6 research effort leads the world, with the European Commission alone contributing some € 55m to research projects currently underway under its Fifth Research Framework Programme. Moreover, GEANT the world's fastest research network is migrating to IPv6 shortly, providing a world-class experimental test-bed for new IPv6 applications and services.

However, rolling out this new technology is not merely a technical problem. Building on the work of the European Commission IPv6 Task Force, set up as a result of the Stockholm Summit, the Communication calls for Europe's research efforts to be matched by political commitment from the Member States and industry to ensure smooth and rapid IPv6 implementation. A concerted effort is needed to consolidate and integrate European efforts in the following fields:

  • Developing the skills base;

  • Sustaining European research efforts;

  • Accelerating the standards and specifications work;

  • Promoting awareness throughout the economy.

The IPv6 Internet

While some of the new addresses will be assigned to users' traditional PCs, most of the new addresses are likely to be assigned to a new breed of internet-capable devices such as mobile phones, car navigation systems, home appliances, industrial equipment and other electronic instruments. Each will need an IP address to communicate with their users and each other.

The IPv6 Internet will therefore be pervasive available seamlessly everywhere. Much of its traffic, moreover, will consist of machines talking amongst themselves - machine-to-machine communications. This will be wireless traffic, as it is obviously impossible to wire up all these devices.

For these reasons, IPv6 will be a key driver of new applications and services delivered by 3G mobile communications systems.

The fact that every device has its own unique address also allows anyone with a PC and an 'always on' broadband connection to launch their own server, and will unleash the possibilities of peer-to-peer communications.

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