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Chinese seek Internet innovations
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After wide application of the first generation Internet, problems such as network security, network capacity, speed and mobility became apparent. Starting in the mid-1990s, many developed countries like the United States began to research the next generation Internet in an attempt to solve these problems.

"Our nation has quickly caught up in the development of the next generation Internet and has made outstanding achievements. However, if we don't pay enough attention to these projects, we will lose our voice in this field," Professor Wu Jianping with Tsinghua University stressed in a recent interview with Outlook Weekly.

According to Wu, with strengthened economy, improved technology and formation of an extensive domestic network consumption market, China has met the basic requirements for developing a large-scale next generation Internet. "The next two to three years will be a crucial period for development. We must be aware of the urgency to develop the next generation Internet."

U.S. dominates core Internet technologies.

"Currently the U.S. is leading the commonly used first generation Internet, dominating its core technologies in key fields like protocols, standards and products and gaining benefits from the new economy brought about by the Internet," Professor Zhang Hongke, President of the School of Electronics and Information Engineering at Beijing Jiaotong University, told Outlook Weekly.

The first Internet survey taken in 1997 showed that Chinese netizens totaled less than one million. Their number rose to 100 million seven years later and broadband users accounted for one fourth of the total user population; Internet users reached 172 million this past September.

The Internet industry chain represented by computers, communication facilities, and network and other related facilities have brought a driving force to the economic development of both China and the world. Statistics show that the national electronic industry output values increased more than 10 times and the export of electronic products increased several dozen times from 1994 to 2004. A group of large enterprises including Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo, and Sina rapidly sprang up. China is heading for an information society and its e-commerce, e-government, and distance education have achieved rapid development.

Currently the network address allocation is not balanced, with more than 70 percent assigned to North America, according to Professor Zhang. Address distribution imbalance has seriously hindered China's ability to develop an information society.
"No intellectual property rights, no right to speak. Due to a lack of core technologies, we have to pay high patent expenses in building the first and second generation mobile networks," Zhang said. In order to get rid of this trouble, China must develop a brand new Internet with self-owned intellectual property rights. With completely new architecture, this Internet will be able to overcome all the existing network defects.

Internet faces serious technological challenges

As one of the leading forces behind Chinese Internet technology, Professor Wu believes that the Internet with IPv4 (the fourth generation of Internet Protocol) as its core technology, developed in the 1980s, is plagued with serious technological challenges: insufficient network addresses (IP) prevent the expansion of Internet; serious loopholes existing in network security undermine people's trust in the Internet; weak control of network quality fails to guarantee high quality network services; broadband and its function fail to meet users' demands; and, traditional wireless mobile communication and Internet belong to different technological systems, making it difficult to effectively connect them with each other.

Currently the commonly used Internet IPv4 adopts 32-figure addresses and has a total of 4.3 billion IP addresses, mostly owned by the United States, leaving less than 800 million addresses to be distributed globally outside of America. Based on the present address distribution speed, one international organization forecast that all IPv4 addresses would run out by 2011 and that the IPv4 addresses of five regional Internet registries (RIR) would run out by 2012.

Prof. Zhang who is now presiding over a research project on the architecture of universal network and pervasive services also pointed out that the first generation Internet built based on IPv4 has original design defects. Despite its wide use, it has many limitations in network security and network mobility.
According to Zhang, the location information of IP addresses also includes the users' personal information. Currently various network security problems – rampant network viruses; constant vicious network attacks; router system failing to identify the credibility of data sources; extreme difficulty in tracking down network troublemakers; users' worries about the disclosure of sensitive network information and privacy – have seriously affected the security of the national economy, society, and military system with their increased dependence on Internet. Due to its weak systematization of security technology, today's Internet can only passively react to the aforementioned problems and is unable to resolve them completely.

The first generation Internet IPv4 was designed for use in a fixed network environment, without considering wireless and mobile environments, so it runs into limitations. The fastest developed cell phone wireless communication mainly adopts two cellular mobile communication technologies: GSM and CDMA. Their chief service is the low speed voice wireless mobile communication. They belong to a technological system completely different from the Internet. Even though a user can visit the Internet via a cell phone, the speed is very slow due to the limitations of the information volume passing through the voice channel.

In recent years Internet wireless access technologies like WiFi and WiMax developed rapidly. Besides laptops' convenient access to the Internet, various kinds of wireless mobile terminals have emerged and greatly increased Internet mobility. "One of the technological challenges facing the next generation Internet is to learn successful lessons from current wireless mobile communication technologies and create a real mobile Internet," said Zhang.

IPv6 is released

Considering the limitations of IPv4, IPv6, a data packet transformation for the next generation Internet, was designed and officially released by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1995 to deal with the rapid development of the Internet. The source address and destination address (IPv6 addresses for short) of the next generation Internet are represented with 128 binary elements, which have reserved a large amount of address space for expansion. IPv6 has also reserved space for coping with the technical challenges of Internet security, high-performance transmission, quality service guarantees, and mobile communications.
The technology is highly experimental and was developed through technological experiments, testing, and innovation. The basic concept of the Internet was invented in 1974, the IPv4 was designed and released in 1978 and the NSFNET, which is the first network backbone adopting IPv4 on a large scale around the world, was designed in America in 1986. From the preliminary establishment of IPv4 Internet in 1988 to the current global IPv4 Internet, another 20 years have passed. The Internet technology has improved and progressed over this time and the application of the technology also has been continuously innovated and developed.

China at the forefront of IPv6 experimental networks

Research on Internet technology began in China in the late 1970s. Besides learning how to design, establish and operate the Internet, the engineering technicians in China started their initial research and development in 1994. The Chinese technicians have overcome key technological problems including IPv4 core routers and IPv6 core routers as well as key software of the Internet and its application.

Supported by the CERNET, Tsinghua University established the first virtual IPv6 test bed in China in 1998, and combined the test bed with 6Bone, which is the test bed of the international IPv6 next generation Internet.

Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the first regional experimental network of the next generation Internet in China was successfully completed in Beijing at the end of 2000. The experimental network has adopted advanced DWDM technology and connected six nodes. A batch of Internet applications has been developed and the experimental network has passed the Internet2 of America, which realized the equal combination between the experimental network of China's Next Generation Internet (CNGI) and the International Next Generation Internet.

During the 2000-2006 period, a batch of exploratory projects on the new generation Internet and its application were supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the "863 Program". The "973 Program" also began to support basic research projects of the new generation Internet and its application during the 2000-2003 period.

In March 2002, 57 academics advised the central government to build "academic high speed network backbones of the second generation internet," which has been flagged as important by the State Council; "The Next Generation Internet Development Strategy Research" Specialist Committee was established in August 2002 and a strategy research report was finished in October; and, headed by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, "China's Next Generation Internet Demonstrating Projects " was initiated in August 2003.

China is the first country to build massive IPv6-only networks, and proposed real source address identification based on IPv6, which ensures the construction of a secured CNGI. Chinese scientists first worked out "IPv6overIPv4," which is a transitional technical solution. In addition, the first large-scale adoption of homemade IPv6 routers in the national network backbones has provided an environment for testing the homemade products, which is helpful for the improvement of IPv6 core routers.

Promoting next generation Internet development as a national strategy

As a prestigious academic leader, Professor Zhang and his scientific research team developed China's first IPv6 router in 2000. Four years later, the team managed to produce an IPv6 wireless mobile router independently. The technology led the whole world at that time, but "the router has not been put into the market even now."

According to Zhang, the competent authorities should develop a clear understanding of the Internet's significant role in social and economic development. Given the current situation of the Chinese market and the Internet industry, he suggests that more efforts be made to promote the development and application of the next generation Internet.

China has made a major breakthrough in the design and production of the IPv6 router, which is the most important device for the next generation Internet, Zhang said. In the future, the country should work hard to produce relevant products and services in larger quantity, at a cheaper price, but with better quality. Products and services, such as network technologies, major devices, and computer terminations, will combine to play a significant part in the widespread application of the next generation Internet, he added.

Professor Wu also said that "currently, some of our Internet technologies are leading the world and we own the sole intellectual property right of the core router and some other devices for the next generation Internet. However, our technical competence is still weak. The government should adopt more policies in the favor of the next generation Internet. So far, the relevant authorities and telecom operators have not understood the necessity and emergency of developing next generation Internet. In China, there are fewer applications for IPv6 addresses than for IPv4 addresses."

Some experts have suggested a national plan for the research of the next generation Internet. They believe it would be of great strategic importance to the country's development. The deployment of IPv6 network should be deemed a national strategy and related measures should be carried out rigorously. Presently, there are a huge number of IPv6 addresses, but future network demand is unpredictable. Sooner or later, the space will be fully occupied and by that time, IPv6 address will become a precious strategic resource. In view of such a situation, these experts suggest that China accelerate its pace of IPv6 address application and seize every opportunity to acquire this strategic resource.

Characteristics of the next generation Internet

Over the past 10 years, many developed countries have earmarked huge amounts of manpower and money to the research of the next generation Internet. Extensive exchanges have been promoted on the international stage, but after a decade-long research and exchange period researchers are still unable to make a precise definition of the next generation Internet or to explain its major difference from the current Internet. Presently, there is only a unanimous agreement that the next generation Internet will be larger, faster, safer, more punctual, more convenient, more manageable, and more profitable.

To be "larger" means the next-generation Internet will be available for all kinds of electronic devices in addition to the computer system we are currently using. It will provide access for a larger number of diversified terminal devices, thus achieving a larger scale and a wider application.

To be "faster" refers to the data transmission speed of the next generation Internet. The end-to-end data transmission speed should range between 10Mbps and 100Mbps, thus providing guarantees for the operation of the more complicated next generation Internet.

To be "safer" means that the next generation Internet, featuring state-of-the-art technologies, will be capable of object identification, user ID authentication, and network access authorization while sticking to the principles of openness, convenience and mutual sharing. With distinct advantages in data encryption and data integrity, the network will have a sounder structure that ensures the validity and traceability of data, thus providing safer and more reliable services for users.

To be "more punctual" means the next generation Internet will adopt effective and reliable methods to control the quality of online services that the current network is incapable of. The next generation Internet will offer users more complicated services like multicasting, large-scale video broadcasting and real-time interaction.

To be "more convenient" means that the next generation Internet will apply advanced wireless mobile telecommunication technologies, thus ensuring users can enjoy Internet and telecommunication service anywhere at any time.

To be "more manageable" means the next generation Internet will overcome the current difficulty of precise network management. With smaller network elements and stronger managerial skill, the next generation Internet will achieve an orderly management, an effective operation, and a timely maintenance.

To be "more profitable" means the next generation Internet will bring benefits to all parties by adopting a new profit-making mode. Featuring rationalism, fairness and harmony, the new mode will change the current situation where network operators work hard to build up a well-functioning platform but keep losing money, while online information providers earn huge profit by taking advantage of the established network.

( by Zhang Ming'ai, Yang Xi and Chen Xia, November 23, 2007)

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