This year’s World Internet Conference in Wuzhen was marked by the appearance of Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai (and their cognitive dissonance) but there was another news from Wuzhen which has largely passed under the radar. The Chinese internet is about to get a lot faster meaning that it will finally be able to climb from its abysmal global ranking at 134th (or 86th, depending on who you ask).

China is in the midst of a push to build the world’s largest IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) network. What does this mean? Like the rest of the world, China uses IP addresses based on a communication standard known as IPv4 but the explosion of the internet, including mobile, intelligent devices and wearables, is making their supply tight. According to the latest data from China Internet Network Information Center, China’s 751 million Internet users only have 338 million IPv4 addresses, far less than total demand.

“Both IPv4 and IPv6 are like the internet’s oil fields and the IP addresses are oil. Now that IPv4 resources are basically exhausted, it’s hard to continue extracting. But oil is pouring out of IPv6,” president of IT solutions company New H3C Yu Yingtao explained to Xinhua (in Chinese).

This is not just China’s problem: the number of available IPv4 addresses globally has been depleted for some time now. The world has been slowly moving on to the new protocol which allows a much higher number of IP addresses. But like internet speeds, China’s implementation of IPv6 has been slow compared to other countries.

The new initiative is coming directly from the CPC Central Committee and State Council and it’s not just about making Chinese netizens happier with internet browsing. The action plan requires that the country uses the next 5 to 10 years to develop the next generation of online autonomous technology systems and the industrial ecology. It will also build the largest IPv6 business application network in the world, said Liu Dong, president and CEO of BII Group (天地互连), a technical public service platform for internet infrastructure.

Liu Dong, president and CEO of BII Group. (Image credit: BII Group)

“Currently we are experiencing and promoting a fundamental change from the connection of ‘people’ to the connection of ‘things’ and this trend will accelerate the era of the Internet of Things,” Liu told TechNode. “IPv6 will become an important support for the IoT era. The resulting massive amounts of data will become an endless source of business value. AI will also change the existing life and production mode by IoT data mining.”

IPv6 is an important starting point for the whole online ecosystem, including big data, IoT, cloud computing and other applications, according to Liu. It will promote industrial upgrading of the Internet not just in China but the world, he added. The plan states that the country will have 200 million IPv6 users by the end of 2018, while the number will exceed 500 million by 2020.

Last week, BII held the Internet Infrastructure Forum (IIF) in Beijing which invited less recognized but more important figures for internet development than Cook and Pinchai, including one of the fathers of the internet, Vinton Cerf. The forum addressed not only internet infrastructure but also privacy and security.

“China is the world’s largest number of internet users, but there are only 0.45 IPv4 addresses per person,” said Liu. “This brings great risks and drawbacks both in internet security and the development of IoT. It could be said that China is one of the countries that are most in need of IPv6.”

But the attention on IPv6 is growing not just because of the demand. The protocol is really driven by the market and business and is it expected that it will represent the general trend, Liu added.

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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