Network engineers looking for information about IPv6 can log onto a new portal, go6.net, that offers the latest news and knowledge about this long-awaited upgrade to the internet's main communications protocol.

IPv6 was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force a decade ago to replace IPv4, the current version of the Internet Protocol. IPv6 offers many advantages over IPv4 including built-in security, easier administration and an enhanced addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, while IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses. This change allows the Internet to support an order of magnitude more uniquely addressed systems with IPv6 versus IPv4.

IPv6 is just starting to gain ground in the US federal government market and among Asian telecom carriers. Federal agencies are required to support IPv6 on their backbone networks by 2008.

The new go6.net portal claims to be the most comprehensive source of information about IPv6 on the web. It was created by Hexago, a Canadian IPv6 vendor. Hexago's partners on the project include VSNL International, an Indian IT services firm, and the IPv6 Forum.

"We developed the portal because we want to encourage the deployment of IPv6," says Bruce Sinclair, president and CEO of Hexago . "The go6.net portal is targeted at the early investigation into IPv6. We're trying to provide the information organisations need, whether they are an enterprise or a government agency, to start working on network plans for transition."

The go6.net portal features a free IPv6 connectivity service called Freenet6, weekly IPv6 news, a discussion forum and a wiki-style collaborative knowledge centre. Hexago is hoping network engineers will use go6.net to share free IPv6 applications and services.

"We're starting to see more applications of IPv6. That's what everybody is looking for," Sinclair says. "We've been canvassing research labs in Taiwan, Japan and Korea, and they have some very interesting real software and application services. The portal is a perfect venue to share those."

Hexago has been providing Freenet6 service for several years and has 150,000 registered users. What's new about the portal is the availability of news, information and discussion forums. VSNL provides the network infrastructure for the free Freenet6 service over its IP backbone. The IPv6 Forum contributes IPv6 content.

Sinclair says the US military is making progress on the IPv6 mandate and will find go6.net useful.

"Progress was relatively slow until the last six months, but now we're starting to see some real deployments," Sinclair says. "The Army CERDEC [Communications Electronics Research Development and Engineering Centre] just completed a very important exercise. The Defence Research and Engineering Network is pretty far ahead. The Defence Information Systems Agency has been working on IPv6 for a long time."

"We're seeing a lot more activity in Asia [than the West] from a commercial point of view," Sinclair says. "There's a lot more appetite there for different types of services, whether they are 3G or advanced broadband services...The US Defence Department is the largest IT spender in the world. Hopefully they will have an effect on the rest of the world."