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Future of the Internet Begins to Take Shape

China has made a major step forward in Internet technology, which could offer faster, more secure access and ease worries over network capacity, industry insiders said this weekend.

An expert panel composed of top scientists and researchers, entrusted by the National Development and Research Commission (NDRC), on Saturday gave an acceptance certificate to an academic network called CERNET2 (w), which connects 25 universities in 20 cities across the country.

CERNET2 is at the forefront of the development of the "China next generation Internet" (CNGI), the world's largest single Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) network.

IPv6 exponentially increases the number of possible Internet protocol (IP) addresses available for connecting PCs and other devices to the Internet.

Under the current IPv4 system controlled by the United States, there are mounting fears that the Internet address pool could run dry, especially in Asia, as more and more people connect to the Internet.

The new technologies that will support the IPv6 system will also offer consumers faster and more secure access, the experts said.

Wu Hequan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and vice-director of the expert panel, said the certification shows China is ahead of the game in building the next generation of the Internet.

"We have made some major breakthroughs in core technologies in CERNET2. The CNGI is now a world-leading Internet network," Wu said in an interview with China Daily.

Japan and South Korea are researching IPv6, and the US Department of Defense is also working on a similar network, though details are not known.

In August 2003, the State Council approved a plan submitted by eight ministries to construct the CNGI.

China has high expectations for the CNGI, which has become a centrepiece of the country's plans to cut reliance on foreign companies for core technologies.

The increasing momentum behind the CNGI will help domestic equipment manufacturers become more competitive, according to Wu.

The market for IPv4-based Internet network equipment, such as core routers, is dominated by foreign firms such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks.

CERNET2, as part of the CNGI, became operational in December 2004. Five Chinese telecoms operators, including China Telecom and China Mobile, are building national IPv6 networks.

Industry insiders said major operators such as China Mobile are expected to launch their IPv6 trial networks before the end of the year.

Domestic companies were selected to provide 80 percent of the routers used in the CERNET2.

"CNGI has given domestic players a chance to prove their competence and test maturity of their equipment," said Wu.

Last year, 25 domestic research institutions and leading companies including Lenovo, BOE and China Netcom formed an industrial alliance to facilitate the commercialization of IPv6 technologies.

Yet, the commercialization of the next generation Internet (NGI) might take years, as CERNET2 is focused mainly on academic research.

Wu Jianping, a professor with Tsinghua University and director of the expert committee of CERNET2, expected IPv6 to gain significant global traction around 2010.

"IPv6 and IPv4 will co-exist for a long time," Wu told China Daily.

"There is huge potential for us to develop more exciting applications," he added.

China had 123 million Internet users by the end of June this year, boasting the second largest Internet population after the United States.

The number of broadband users reached 77 million and there are 788,000 websites in the country, statistics show.

(China Daily September 25, 2006)

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