IPv6: The Future of IPTV?

Convergence is now here with mobile, data, voice and video all going over Internet infrastructure.

In particular the promise of TV delivered via IP is gaining momentum globally the more the Internet merges with consumer electronics, especially televisions. But plenty of challenges remain, not the least of which is the pending depletion of the IPv4 address space.

Experts predict IPv4 addresses will be exhausted as early as 2010. That’s why the move is underway to the IPv6 protocol, which provides significantly more address space for devices.

The move to IPv6 has been slow around the globe, with a few exceptions. One of them is in Japan, where deployment of IPv6 by telco NTT could provide a blueprint for carriers preparing for the rise of IPTV.

“NTT Plala Hikari TV is the first large scale commercially successful IPTV over IPv6 service,” said Cody Christman, NTT America’s director of product engineering.

“It has 76 channels of standard and high definition TV over the network, over 10,00 video on demand tiles and 13,000 titles in their Karaoke service.”

NTT Plala is a Japanese Internet service provider operated by NTT. The company’s Hikari TV deployment is getting a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week as an example of IPv6 put to practical use.

The Hikari TV deployment runs on top of NTT’s next generation IPv6 network, which Christman noted delivers Internet service to 10 million Japanese subscribers. The Hikari TV service currently has penetration in the hundreds of thousands of users. (The term Hikari is Japanese for light and refers to the fiber optic cable to the home that carries the service.)

Consumers in Japan can buy set-top boxes that are IPv6 enabled for Hikari. As well, Christman noted that there are also Hikari-ready TV sets in Japan from Toshiba that integrate the set-top box capabilities directly into the TV. This happens with Ethernet port that plugs directly into users’ TVs.

Christman says the need for IPv6 for IPTV delivery is obvious, given that the IPv4 protocol is running out of room. By building out an IPv6 deployment, NTT has more scalability to grow the service and its functionality over time. In particular, one thing that a unique IPv6 address will allow Hikari TV consumers is end to end address transparency.

In North America and globally, Network Address Translation (NAT) is used to take a public IPv4 address and the provide a private local addresses, such that one public IP address could have many users and uses.

With IPv6 and its abundance of address space, NAT is no longer required, which Christman argued enables service providers to have a cleaner network architecture that doesn’t have to deal with NAT and some of the potential connectivity problems that it poses. IPv6 with its unique IP addresses for all, also enables end to security without NAT interference.

While the Hikari TV service is delivered over IPv6, it does have compatibility with IPv4 based Internet services as well. Christman explained that NTT tunnels IPv4 addresses over the IPv6 backbone so users can access IPv4 based content.

Overall Christman sees the adoption and deployment of IPv6 taking off in 2009 with services like Hikari TV showing the way. At a core level, Christman argued the future must be IPv6.

“I never like to be the guy talking about the sky is falling,” Christman said. “So we like to talk here about innovative applications that run over IPv6. But with the IPv4 depletion, things will accelerate and I just think we’ll see greater adoption of IPv6 in the years to come.”

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