Is It “Internet 2”?

Internet2 is an advanced academic and industrial consortium led by the research and education community, including over 200 higher education institutions and the research departments of a number of large corporations. They have deployed a world-wide research network called the Internet2 Network. While IPv6 is definitely being used on the Internet2 network, their focus is primarily on network performance (speed). The first part of the Internet2 network (called Abilene) was built in 1998, running at 10Gbit/sec (even over WAN links). It was associated with the National LambdaRail (NLR) project for some time. Internet2 and NLR have since split and moved forward along two different paths. Today, most links in the global Internet2 network are running at 100Gbit/sec. This is over 100 times faster than typical WAN links used by major corporations today. It is even 10 to 100 times faster than state of the art LANs.

Internet2 also doing advanced research into secure identity and access management tools, on demand creation and scheduling of high-bandwidth, high-performance circuits, layer 2 VPNs and dynamic circuit networks (DCNs).

A recent survey of Internet2 sites showed that only a small percentage of them have even basic IPv6 functionality deployed, such as IPv6 DNS, e-mail or VoIP over IPv6. IPv6 works fine at such speeds, it just isn’t the focus of the Internet2 project.

Essentially Internet2 is primarily concerned more with extreme high-end performance (100Gbit/sec and up), and very advanced networking concepts not likely to be used in real-world systems for decades. Although they do profess support for IPv6, they have not aggressively deployed it, and it is definitely not central to their efforts. They are doing little or no work on IPv6 itself, or in new commercial applications based on IPv6. I guess those areas are not very exciting to academicians.

The real world Third Internet I am writing about is being built primarily with equipment that mostly has the same performance as current Second Internet networks (no more than 1Gbit/sec on WAN links for some time to come, and only that high in advanced countries). In much of the world today 5Mbit/sec to 20Mbit/sec is considered good ISP service. Maybe 100Gbit/sec will be widely deployed by 2030 to 2040, but ultra high performance is not necessary to provide the revolutionary benefits possible with the Third Internet. To give you an idea, Standard Definition (SD) TV streaming requires about 2Mbit/sec bandwidth per channel, and High Definition (HD) TV streaming requires about 7 to 10 MBit/sec bandwidth per simultaneously viewed channel. That is about the most bandwidth intensive application you will likely see for most users for some time to come. Voice only requires about 8 to 64 Kbit/sec for good quality. In Japan and Korea today, home Internet accounts typically have about 50 to 100 Mbit/sec performance. In my home in Singapore, I have 1 Gigabit service today (for SGD 49.95 a month – with no data caps!). With that service, we could in theory be watching 50 or more HD streaming programs simultaneously. That is enough for almost any use today. Most users would be really challenged to make effective use of 100 Gbit/sec bandwidth, even in companies. With that bandwidth you could download the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (less images) in about 10 milliseconds. You could download an entire Blu-Ray movie (about 25 GBytes on average) in about 1/4 second. This is kind of like having a family car with a 5,000 horsepower engine. What would you need that for?

The necessary equipment and applications for the Third Internet can in many cases be created with software or firmware upgrades (except for older and low-end devices that don’t have enough RAM or ROM to handle the more complex IPv6 protocol, and in high end telco and ISP products that include hardware acceleration).

The main technical advantages of the Third Internet will not be ludicrously higher bandwidth, but the vastly larger IP address space, the restoration of the flat address space (elimination of NAT), and the general availability of working multicast. All of these are made possible by migration to IPv6, which involves insignificant costs compared to supporting 100Gbit/sec WAN links. Perhaps generally available WAN bandwidth in that range will be what characterizes the Fourth Internet.

So, Internet2 is not the Third Internet I am writing about. Internet2 is primarily an academic exercise that will not bear fruit for many decades. What they are doing is very important in the long run, but it does not address, and will not solve, the really major problems facing the Second (IPv4 based) Internet today. The Third Internet is being rolled out today, and will probably reach the tipping point (50% of global traffic being over IPv6) in early 2018. That event will mark the beginning of the end of the Second (IP4-only) Internet.