US carriers quietly developing IPv6 services

New security, network-management services to support IPv6 transition

For a decade, IPv6 has been the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum: There has been little North American demand for IPv6, so US carriers haven't introduced IPv6 services; without commercial IPv6 services available from carriers, US government agencies and businesses can't migrate to the next-generation Internet technology.

Now, cracks are starting to appear in the IPv6 egg.

They haven't released many details yet, but US carriers say they are developing commercial services that will take advantage of IPv6, a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol known as IPv4. Many of the new services are due out in the next year, carriers say.

IPv6 uses a 128-bit addressing scheme and supports a virtually limitless number of devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv4, on the other hand, has 4.3 billion addresses, and most of them have been handed out. IPv4 address space is expected to run out by 2012, a deadline that is forcing carriers around the world to migrate to IPv6.

"We've seen commitments by the major telecom carriers. They're going to be IPv6 ready and enabled by 2010," says Jerry Edgerton, CEO of Command Information, a provider of IPv6 services whose carrier customers include Verizon and British Telecom. "These carriers are now global players, and so are their customers. IBM just moved its supply chain management to China last year. This globalization factor is going to drive demand to IPv6. If I'm a global enterprise, I need to be compatible with the rest of the world."

The US carrier that is out in front on IPv6 is NTT America, which began offering IPv6 access services in North America in 2003. NTT has been a leader in the development of new IPv6 offerings, such as an IPv6-enabled managed-firewall service in 2005. That's why The Planet recently chose NTT America to supports its IPv6-based hosting services.

Kazuhiro Gomi, CTO of NTT America, says there is a lack of managed security services for IPv6 available on the market. That's one reason NTT America's parent company has developed a multipolicy IPv6 VPN, which is available for purchase in Japan. NTT's IPv6 Multi-Policy Access service, which was launched in August 2007, uses dedicated encryption machines that let customers use a secure VPN to link IPv6 devices operating on different networks. Network managers have access to an on-demand security-policy feature that allows them to set policies for different devices.

"US corporate CIOs should be aware of IPv6 development in Japan," Gomi says. "It is actually being deployed in a massive manner in Japan. So much has been said over the last four to five years about when it is coming, but I think people should be aware that it actually is coming."

Other US carriers have been offering IPv6 services that aren't in their product catalogs. Most of their IPv6-related development work is targeting federal agencies, which are required to enable IPv6 on their backbone networks by June 30 and say they will do just that. (Neither Verizon Business nor Global Crossing would comment for this story).

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AT&T, for example, is offering managed service for IPv6 routers but only on a custom basis. "We will manage IPv6-capable routers . . . on a case-by-case basis," says Paul Girardi, director of engineering for AT&T Government Solutions. "We will have more of a productized approach that we'll offer in the early-2009 time frame."

AT&T in 2009 will offer network-management services for IPv6, Girardi says. That development is important, because leading network-management software from IBM/Tivoli, HP and others doesn't support IPv6 yet.

Sprint Nextel is offering IPv6 services in a test-bed mode, and it is updating its federal telecommunications contracts -- particularly the 10-year Networx Enterprise deal -- to offer IPv6 services.

"We're currently modifying our necessary contracts to include [IPv6]," says Bill White, acting vice president for federal sales at Sprint. "It's going to be a generally available, order-able feature of our IP MPLS services. For Networx, the contract modification has gone into [the General Services Administration], and the service will be order-able before June 30."

Sprint says its IPv6 services will cost the same as its IPv4 services. "There won't be an uplift cost to an agency to order the IPv6 feature," White says, adding that IPv6 access will cost the same as IPv4 access. "The most common service will be our dual-stack solution to handle IPv4 and IPv6 traffic."

For commercial customers, Sprint will have IPv6 "across our peerless IP network, our global MPLS network and our SprintLink dedicated Internet network," White says. "Any of the services you can order off those networks can become IPv6 enabled. . . . We're trying to simplify our data networking to collapse everything into an IP core."

Qwest Communications offers an IPv6 test bed, but it doesn't have many customers. What Qwest plans to offer that's new in the IPv6 arena this year is IPv6-related engineering support, which it will add to its Networx Universal and Networx Enterprise contracts. Engineering services "is one of the things agencies are missing," says Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager of Qwest Government Services. "They don't have the folks that understand and have experience in IPv6 solutions. . . . I think that will help spur this transition."

Level 3 Communications has several customers in North America and Europe that run IPv6 tunneled through IPv4, but it doesn't have commercial IPv6 services yet. "If you look at the commercial demand, it's extremely low," says Edward Morche, general manager of Level 3's federal markets group. "We're tunneling it today, and we'll continue to do that if the demand stays weak. As we purchase more routers at the edge, we have been ensuring for some time that everything is dual stack."

Level 3 won't say when it will provide commercial IPv6 services. "We're trying to figure that out now," Morche says. "We've got the largest IP backbone in the world. . . . We're confident that when people want IPv6, we'll be able to offer it."