IPv6 Summits as the Engine for IPv6 Diffusion
by Alex Lightman

I'm writing this from Beijing, where the China IPv6 Global Summit concluded yesterday. 2,500 people were registered and 25 sponsors (from the US, Canada, the EU, and Japan as well as China) showed the support for a boom in IPv6. China already has over 300 million mobile phone users, enough to use up every one of the remaining Internet addresses for IPv4 once they switch to the mobile Internet, as China seeks to leapfrog nearby Japan and Korea, which have nearly 80 million mobile Internet users between them. The diffusion of IPv6 is very different in each country.

In China it's driven by government-sponsored engineering research entities, with Huawei and domestic router companies belatedly buying software to catch up. No military person has ever attended a Chinese IPv6 summit (vs. hundreds from the Dept. of Defense for US summits). While much is made by Westerners about how China lack of IP addresses drives adoption, that's not the sense I got from the Beijing summit. For one thing, APNIC (the organization that hands out both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses) claims that all Chinese requests have been met. For another, several Chinese speakers emphasized (to the only applause of a very reserved audience) that China needed IPv6 to sell Chinese hardware and software for export.

In Japan, both Prime Minister Mori and continuing with Prime Minister Koizumi, have called for a national effort to be "the best IT nation" in part by being the best adopter of IPv6, and the IPv6 Promotion Council of Japan has hundreds of corporate members, and 4,000 attendees at its business summit. Prof. Jun Murai's prestige as Japan's "Father of the Internet" helped him get a breadth of support in Japan without compare in any other national context that has lasted, putting Japan as No. 1 IPv6 implementer. NTT Communications maintains the largest IPv6 network, with over 1,000 IPv6-enabled routers.Europe's implementations are driven by the European Commission, an entity with a $100 billion budget that has funded a number of multimillion dollar research projects that span several countries, and Luxembourg is the home of the IPv6 Forum, whose leader, Dr. Latif Ladid, has helped organize over 30 summits, starting with the very first IPv6 summit, in Paris. European companies, including big companies like Nokia and Ericsson, and start ups like France's 6Wind, show European leadership in IPv6 for wireless and an entrepreneurial quality uncommon in the IPv6 world, were established companies provide the advances.

In the US the market has been driven from 1999 by voluntary efforts and by leading Internet hardware companies like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, whose employees have given generously to IPv6 community build on and off company time and, since June 2003, by the Department of Defense, which has mandated IPv6 for all systems that tie into the Global Information Grid since October 2002. America entrepreneurial efforts are particularly in training, where Native6, Sunset Learning, along with larger Spirent, get American engineers, managers, and soldiers up to speed on IPv6. So who will lead in IPv6 and what does it matter?

Americans are damn good at inventing and early adoption. Our Edisoneque track record of nearly 7 million patents is why the US, though only conducting recorded economic activity for about 300 years, has an $11.4 trillion/year economy, about ten times larger in dollar terms than China, which has been in business 2,000% longer and has over 400% more people. China "came within a hair's breadth" of industrializing in the 14th century AD, but stopped inventing and early adoption. The Internet is arguably America's greatest invention, and whether the US continues to lead in Internet-related reinvention, or passes the crown to China, will determine, as much as any other factor, whether the US maintains its lead in hundreds of other areas.

The consistent, widespread government support for IPv6 from Europe and Asia (which are highly motivated to beat the US in economic competition, though their partisans say this in a way that is very subtle, and thus avoid triggering Sputnik-like headlines). This support contrasts with idiosyncratic nature of the government support for IPv6 in the US outside of the highly competent Dept. of Defense. A case in point: Richard Clarke, much in the headlines of late, was persuaded by key members of the IPv6 Forum to support IPv6 as part of improving Cybersecurity, and agreed to be a keynote speaker at our IPv6 Summit in San Diego, June 2003. Clarke quit and his successor as Cybersecurity Czar, Howard Schmidt also agreed to support IPv6 and to be the keynote for San Diego. Schmidt lasted just a few months, and was not replaced, leaving the US without an IPv6 champion. If John Stenbit and Director of Architecture and Interoperability John Osterholz had not stepped up to take leadership, the US government (and thus broad cross-industry/cross-government cooperation) would have been missing in action, even as thousands of very intelligent executives and politicians are investing billions in IPv6 leadership abroad.

I was not surprised to learn at the speaker's dinner during our Arlington IPv6 Summit that, right before making the decision to mandate IPv6 (announced, memorably, on Friday the 13th, just a weekend and a week before the San Diego IPv6 summit), Messrs. Stenbit and Osterholz looked at the corporate sponsorship list for the San Diego summit, and saw that several of the best and brightest American companies (as well as several from Asia and Europe) were supportive of IPv6. The Dept. of Defense mandate is now spreading around the world, leading to decisions in some countries (such as the Ministry of Defense in Germany) to also mandate IPv6 and to explorations in others. Canada, the Czech Republic, and the UK have sent representatives to US IPv6 summits to meet with DoD IPv6 experts.

The DoD participation has almost completely changed the color and smell of media coverage of IPv6, from dank and rank to bright and lip-licking appetizing. After the Ottawa IPv6 summit articles were written about the Foreign Internet and the majority of (unimaginative) tech reporters sniffed at the notion that the 30 year old TCP/IP Internet could be improved. The Pentagon's mandate (the first of any military) changed their tune, and other than a few odd pieces like the error-filled Technology Review opinion piece, coverage of IPv6 has had a positive tone. Mainstream press, including the New York Times, BBC, and the Wall Street Journal have started to cover IPv6, and the wonderful Network World has done great cover stories on IPv6 after the San Diego and Arlington IPv6 summits.

I get asked all the time by very smart people how the number of attendees of summits compare, both across time and around the world. People are looking for The Next Big Bandwagon to jump on, and rates of increase are tracked by executives like technical traders track the momentum or acceleration of Relative Strength of a public company's stock. The relative number of attendees and the number and reputations of the corporate sponsors are thus revealed as highly significant milestones and signifiers of a society's success in grasping what should seem blindingly obvious: the Internet is very important, and the early adopter of the next generation Internet has a head start in creating new opportunities for existing companies, as well as new industries. Your participation really matters. Your company's sponsorship of IPv6 summits really matters. At this point, the country to beat for participation is China, and, to paraphrase the pilot episode of television's Kung Fu (I am in China after all), when the the US has as many participants and sponsors as China), then, grasshopper, we will be ready to lead.

The IPv6 Summits are like the Olympics: they show the relative rankings of nations. While the Olympics get the attention, any reasonable analysis would show that IPv6 adoption is orders of magnitude more important in advancing the health, wealth, and wisdom of a society. So, make your stand, and join us in Santa Monica to show that you support a new Internet for a better country, and inspire and challenge a world that is watching the US to redouble their efforts. Good summits lead to get good press and good dealmaking, and industry rivalry. This leads to further government attention and funding, and to the very best sort of arms race, one that will eventually get all six billion people connected on the Internet, and thus make each of us part of all of us, for the very first time. Want to improve the world? Come to the IPv6 Summit and be counted.