Nokia has developed a prototype handset that supports Mobile IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6), a version of the protocol that will help to improve the quality of VoIP (voice over IP), streaming video and other applications delivered to wireless devices.
At the 3G World Congress show in Hong Kong, Nokia showed a video clip being streamed to its IPv6 phone, which also supports the current version of the protocol, IPv4. It was the first public demonstration of a call being made to a phone using IPv6.
The technology offers several advantages over IPv4. Most importantly, it can accommodate a vastly increased number of network addresses, the identifying numbers assigned to devices on a network. New addresses from IPv4 are already in short supply, and the introduction of 3G phones, with their powerful data capabilities, is only likely to increase demand.
Service providers have come up with various technology tricks to compensate for the shortage, including network address translators, or Nats. But Nats cause a slight latency that can affect the performance of real-time applications such as VoIP and streaming video. It also makes it more difficult to link handsets together directly in a P2P fashion, said Joseph Krenson, a Nokia software engineer.
Mobile IPv6 should help to eliminate the problems, he said. The technology will also allow handsets to stay continuously connected as they move between networks with different access technologies, such as CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and wireless Lans. And it should allow for improved data security, Nokia said.
T-Mobile International is among the operators that are already testing IPv6 phones in their networks, said Lutz Schade, an executive vice-president with the German operator.
"We need to have it," he said, in part because of the shortage of IPv4 addresses. IPv6 can also help operators to cut their costs by helping them make their networks more efficient, he said.
Still, operators are unlikely to invest heavily in the technology until there is clear demand from users for VoIP, streaming video and other services that could benefit from it, said Adam Gould, Nokia's chief technology officer for CDMA.
"Realistically, it will probably be a couple of years" before operators support Mobile IPv6 in their networks, he said.
Nokia showed how a video clip streamed to its IPv6 handset was uninterrupted as the handset moved from one network access point to another. With IPv4, the application would have had to be restarted as the phone moved between the two access points, Krenson said.
Nokia's IPv6 phone is still undergoing tests, but the company will have phones ready for market by the time operators decide to adopt the technology, Gould said.
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service